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Dangerous rewards (random reinforcement)

Nicole had never been to the races before, so she jumped at the invitation to go with some friends. None of them knew anything about horse racing or gambling. Nicole decided to bet on a horse in the first race because she liked its name. She won 10 times her stake.

On the second race Nicole randomly picked another horse whose name she liked, but it finished way back in the field. On the third race, she did the same again and won six times her stake. Then she noticed that the two winners had names starting with P, but the loser’s names started with M.

In the next race she picked another horse whose name started with P and it won, giving her seven times her stake. Nicole realised she was onto something. There were no horses in the fifth or sixth races starting with P, so she did not bet. In the last race, she again found a horse starting with P and backed it. It finished narrowly fourth after being hemmed in on the rails. Nicole now knew she was onto something big. That last race was just unlucky — her horse was meant to win.

Over the following weeks and months, Nicole became a punter, always backing horses with names starting with P. Sometimes she won and sometimes they were unlucky again. Nicole had become a victim of random reinforcement. She now had a gambling addiction and a superstition — that horses starting with P win ...

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