A pair of Australian researchers have won the equivalent of science’s top booby prize for studying the effects of proximity to crocodiles on gambling behavior.
Thursday night saw the awarding of the 27th annual Ig Nobel prizes, the tongue-in-cheek awards for the most pointless and/or WTF scientific studies to have been somehow been funded, conducted and published.
Among this year’s recipients were Central Queensland University professors Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer, who wanted to know if gamblers made riskier choices on an electronic gaming machine (EGM) after having held a one-meter saltwater crocodile.
Their 2010 study, Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal, involved 103 men and women who agreed to play a laptop-simulated EGM either (a) prior to taking a tour of a local crocodile farm or (b) immediately after the subject held a crocodile. The croc had its jaw taped shut, although the subjects were warned that the beast was still dangerous.
The researchers wanted to see whether excitement-induced physiological arousal would influence their gamblers’ bet size, speed of betting and other factors. The test subjects were classified as either at-risk gamblers or non-problem gamblers.
The results varied depending on whether the gamblers’ croc-induced arousal was perceived as a negative (unlucky), which led to a moderating effect on average bet size for at-risk gamblers, while more positive arousal led to larger bets.
However, the “most intense betting” came when at-risk gamblers experienced low arousal and negative emotions. The researchers said this indicated that “boredom or mild anxiety” may be the worst triggers for problem gambling behavior among this group.
At-risk gamblers were also more prone to misattributing a state of high arousal as “an indicator of future gambling success,” while non-problem gamblers were more likely to moderate their wagers after holding the croc, suggesting “a climate of caution” carried over from their brush with reptilian terror.
Along with their Ig Nobel trophy, Rockloff and Greer received a cash prize of $10 trillion, although it’s paid in Zimbabwean currency, so it’s effectively like they won a week’s worth of someone’s recycled newspapers, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.