Individuals often face choices that have uncertain outcomes and have important consequences. As a model of this environment, laboratory experiments often offer a choice between an uncertain, large reward that varies in its probability of delivery against a certain but smaller reward as a measure of an individual’s risk aversion. An important factor generally lacking from these procedures are gambling related cues that may moderate risk preferences. The present experiment offered pigeons choices between unreliable and certain rewards but, for the Signaled group on winning choices, presented a ‘jackpot’ signal prior to reward delivery. The Unsignaled group received an ambiguous stimulus not informative of choice outcomes. For the Signaled group, presenting win signals effectively blocked value discounting for the large, uncertain outcome as the probability of a loss increased, whereas the Unsignaled group showed regular preference changes similar to previous research lacking gambling related cues. These maladaptive choices were further shown to be unaffected by more salient loss signals and resistant to response cost increases. The results suggest an important role of an individual’s sensitivity to outcome-correlated cues in influencing risky choices that may moderate gambling behaviors in humans, particularly in casino and other gambling-specific environments.

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Published in Scientific Reports, v. 7, article no. 6625, p. 1-11.

© The Author(s) 2017

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