2019.07.13

Research Test: Do Monkeys Get a Similar Feeling of Excitement By Playing Casino Games?

Here’s an interesting research proposition. We all know that most humans love to play games, and especially those types of games that involve some sort of risk or challenge. But what about other animals? 

Most of us are already aware that animals like to play with their own kind as well as with their human owners. For proof, a few minutes (or hours depending on how caught up you get) spent on YouTube will produce hundreds, if not thousands of examples of animals playing with humans. Everything from dogs and cats to goats, cows, horses and pigs play and interact, both with their own kind, other kinds of animals in their vicinity and of course, humans as well.

However, for the most part, these are simple and physical games involving running around in circles, jumping, leaping and other physical movements. What about other types of games? Games that require more mental agility. You know, a bit of deductive reasoning, strategy, making fast choices under pressure, essentially all the requirements of playing casino games.

Monkeys and Apes

As the title of this page indicates, we’re thinking more along the lines of monkeys, and how they would potentially do with more complex games like casino games. Actually, it would make more sense to broaden that grouping and include apes, which incidentally are more closely related to us than monkeys are anyway. 

Just as a side line reference: monkeys are defined as having tails, while apes, like us, do not have tails. The ape family covers quite a lot of ground and includes humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utans, gibbons, and bonobos. Now, of all the apes, the closest to us (humans) in both intelligence and behaviour patterns, are chimpanzees. However, since most people don’t know (or don’t really care) that apes and monkeys are not exactly the same thing, we’ll continue to use the group term ‘monkeys’ for the purposes of this little experiment.

How Smart are Monkeys Compared to Humans?

According to a recent article published in the UK Mirror, scientists believe that some monkeys are as smart as toddlers. This, according to the article, is especially true when it comes to solving puzzles. One of these experiments involved food and a piece of string. Different test candidates including chimpanzees, capuchins and bonobos, all managed to figure out that, if they pulled a certain string, it would release a food reward. 

According to the scientist running these tests, the findings showed that, essentially, all of these species reflected similar intelligence to human toddlers (in the 3-year old range) since the monkeys were able to demonstrate that they understood abstract properties. 

One of the scientists involved in the series of experiments, Dr Amanda Seed, of the University of St Andrews, described the objectives of the experiments. She said that they had an aim to discover how animals perceive the world in which they live. She also wondered whether these animals had any idea whether their surrounding objects had abstract properties such as weight and solidity or do they depend on learning relationships between what you see, what you do and what you get, in the same way that we learn to stop at a red light. 

The experiment involving the piece of string was quite simple and included two strings, one complete and one broken. The test subjects were required to figure out that the unbroken one would lead to (be connected to) a successful food reward. 

So, while these experiments are interesting in proving that monkeys and apes possess intelligence and are capable of abstraction, is it enough to answer the question “Do monkeys get a similar feeling of excitement by playing casino games?”.

Monkeys and Video Games

Let’s take this to the next level, moving away from simple science experiments and into a realm more closely associated with casino games – video games. 

As you might expect, chimpanzees do especially well with video games, as proven by a 22-year-old female chimp named Panzee. While it might come as a bit of a shock to some, chimpanzees are smart enough to go head to head with humans, as a battery of tests conducted by University of Michigan-Dearborn recently revealed.

The series of tests saw twelve human children with ages ranging from 3 to 12, along with four adults, go head to head against four adult chimps. Sexes were divided equally between male and female all round in an effort to create as level a playing field as possible. 

According to the Fox News article that published the tests and the ensuing results, all of the test participants were tested using a virtual reality-based complex maze type of video game. One of the female chimps participating in the trial – Panzee “significantly outperformed all 12 children as well as the 4 adult participants”.

The other chimps were more or less on the same level as the kids aged between 3 and 6 and completed the maze course in similar times. Aside from trying to solve the maze as fast as possible, scientists were also keeping track of each participants “travel efficiency” (picking the easiest or fastest route), as well as the total distance that each participant covered while trying to solve the maze. 

Apparently, this is where the female chimp, Panzee really outdid everyone else, leaving all contestants in her dust. In fact, not only did she beat everyone by finding the shortest route possible, she did so on the most difficult and complex of all mazes used during the trials. 

Interestingly, all participants, both human and chimp, were given VR headsets along with joysticks that followed the cardinal points, meaning up is north, down is south, left is west and right is east. Human participants received between ten to twenty training sessions, while the chimps less than half of that. According to the scientists at the centre, the chimps were already used to using joysticks in other virtual reality games (unrelated trials). 

So, What about Casino Games?

It would seem to be a bit of a stretch to think that, even a chimp as smart as Panzee would be able to play complex casino games like poker, blackjack or roulette. Most reading this article would be perfectly fine with the article ending right here, with a declaration that read something like “unfortunately we’ve discovered that, not only do chimps or monkeys not feel excited about playing casino games, they can’t play them at all”.

But that’s where you’d be wrong because, not only are there cases of chimps that have been taught to play games more commonly associated with casinos, they are able to derive just as much excitement and anticipation that humans get when they gamble. 

Let’s start with Vinny, a 12-year-old chimp living at the Kansas City Institute for Primate Studies. As it so happens, Vinny loves to gamble and got his introduction to it while watching two research students playing craps for fun during their lunch break. Perhaps as an attempt at humour, the students used bananas as chips, which is really what got the chimp interested in the first place.

Here’s where it gets interesting. While playing their game, the students noticed that Vinny was observing them and the game itself. They also noticed that Vinny had become just about as excited as they were, and seemed to be even more animated, jumping up and down and screaming at every result. For all intents and purposes, Vinny was no different from the casual onlooker at any Las Vegas casino, watching the players shoot craps or win or lose at blackjack. 

The students in turn decided to take things a bit further, turning a simple lunch break incident into some worthy research into more primate behaviour. They decided to train Vinny, along with a number of other chimps at the facility, how to gamble. 

The gambling games were simple enough. Two buttons, a red one and a green one, each leading to a box that either contained a banana treat, or nothing at all. 

If the chimps pressed the red button, they would be able to open a door that yielded a single banana. However, if they pressed the green button, they would either get nothing, or a random prize of more than one banana. 

Interestingly, after months of training so they would understand what they would get by pressing the red button - a sure thing, and what they would get by pressing the green button – a gamble, every one of the chimps would press the green button every time. So, in an effort to score more than one banana at a time, it seems that chimps not only understand the nature of gambling, but actually enjoy the gamble itself. 

Still not convinced? There are plenty of other stories just like Vinney’s. Perhaps the most famous example of all is Mikey, the “Poker Playing Ape”. Mikey is something of a celebrity around the world, particularly within the world of poker. With appearances on Good Morning America, Fox News, Inside Addition and CBS, Mikey has won the hearts of poker fans and animal lovers all across the globe. This audacious and skilled chimp has even played high stakes poker against some of the best in the game, including the likes of Marcel Luske, who commented that the game was “more civil than other poker contests he’s participated in”.