Who Gets the Cheese?

Posted by: Sam Eaton
Under: Quantum Thoughts
5 Jan 2008

Sometimes the human brain’s amazing ability to find patterns becomes a disadvantage when it works to find meaning where none exists.

An experiment was conducted competing two groups of subjects, 50 human college students of average IQ and 50 mature rats of untested IQ.


A monitor was set up behind a food pellet dispenser. A dot would appear at random on the screen. If the dot appeared on the top third of the screen and the bar was pushed, a cheesy flavoured food pellet would be dispensed 50% of the time. If the dot appeared on the bottom two thirds of the monitor and the bar was hit, no food pellet would be dispensed.

People instructed to get the best score possible, would develop an array of strategies on when to press the bar and when not to. Virtually all of the humans developed a strategy that involved not pressing the bar at some points. Meanwhile, the rats would learn to hit the bar every time a dot appeared no matter where it appeared.

Since, in fact, there was no disadvantage to pressing the bar when the dot was in the bottom two thirds, the simpler strategy of always pressing the bar would harvest more pellets then any strategy the college students came up with!

We with our big brains, lost to the rats consistently. Our need to find meaning led us to create food pellet superstitions that, in the end, cost us cheesy flavoured treats.

We are all smarter then rats, but being smarter doesn’t always get us the cheese.

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