Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Zentall


Individuals experience risk ubiquitously, but measuring risk taking is difficult. The balloon analogue risk task (BART) was developed in order to assess risk taking through having subjects press a key that accrues reward but also risk losing all reward with each press. In humans, greater responding in this task is associated with other maladaptive risk taking behaviors. The present research modeled this relationship in pigeons due to their previously shown propensity towards risk taking behavior. Experiment 1 used an unsignaled balloon task in which losing could only occur after 5 pecks. Results showed below optimal performance with greater pecks associated with faster acquisition of risk taking in the suboptimal choice task and evidence of modulation by delay discounting measures. Experiment 2 signaled the number of pecks with colors and tested multiple hoppers as a reinforcement modality to increase performance. Results showed only signaling the number of pecks improved performance and was related to performance in the high risk BART task. Both the low and high risk variants were associated with slower suboptimal choice acquisition and again had evidence of modulation by delay discounting measures. Potential shared underlying mechanisms are discussed.