Scientists Prove That Plants and Animals Gamble (Or Accept Risk for More Potential Gain)

Scientists have learned that humans are not the only living beings on Earth which gamble. Several recent studies suggest plants and animals both have the ability to take calculated risks, under the right circumstances.

One study, called “Pea Plants Show Risk Sensitivity“, was conducted by researchers at three different universities. The researchers are Efrat Dener of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba; Alex Kacelnik of the Department of Zoology (Behavioural Ecology) at Oxford University; and Hagai Shemesh of the Tel-Hai Academic College at Rosh Pinna.

Preferences Influenced by Magnitude and Variance

The point of the research was to see if pea plants took risks or not. The study paper began with the observation, “The preferences of animals between sources of food are strongly influenced by both magnitude and variance in the outcome of their actions.

Because animals have shown that variance of outcomes modifies behaviors, the researchers wanted to see whether plants showed the same modification, if results were varied. Thus, the researchers studied what happened when the plants were given plenty of access to resources, and then see if behavior changed when they were given more variable resources.

Choose Greater Risk in Times of Scarcity

The pea plants thus had their roots placed in two bowls. One bowl was given a steady (and plentiful) supply of food, while the other was given a variable supply of food. The scientists were not surprised to find that the plants grew towards the steady, plentiful supply of food.

Then the researchers changed up the factors. Next, they had one bowl which was given a steady (but less plentiful) supply of food, while the other bowl was given a great deal more variance. Sometimes, the food supply would be great, while at other times, the food supply was almost nothing. The researchers were surprised to find that the plants grew in the direction of the bowl with the feast-or-famine supply of food.

Thus, went faced with scarcity, the pea plants did not take the steadier supply of food, but took the risk of getting no food, for the chance they would receive a larger supply. The plants took risks in the hopes of receiving a feast. Because plants expend energy growing the way animals expend energy hunting, the plants were taking significant risks.

“Adaptive Response to Risk”

Professor Alex Kacelnik, the co-author of the study’s report, said to Alphr, “To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of an adaptive response to risk in an organism without a nervous system.

The doctors were surprised by the results, which are counter-intuitive from a human perspective. Faced with a dilemma, though, pea plants seem prepared to take risks in order to thrive. What prepares them to do so is the real question.

Prof. Kacelnik added, “We do not yet know how the plants’ sense variance functions, or even if their physiology is specifically adapted to respond to risk, but the findings lead us to look even at pea plants as dynamic strategists and to model their decision processes just as one would model an intelligent agent.

Duke Study of Chimpanzees

Christopher Krupenye of Duke University found that chimpanzees were more risk-averse when it comes to food. In a study done several years ago, Krupenye found that chimps were more likely to take one single banana (with a small chance of getting two), instead of a more variable chance of getting bananas (one, two, or zero).

The chimps did not like the disappointment of getting no bananas, so they took the option which assured one banana. The chimps were thrilled when they got two, though.

Christopher Krupenye said in his report at the time, “Historically, researchers thought these kinds of biases must be a product of human culture, or the way we’re socialised, or our experience with financial markets. But the fact that chimps and bonobos, our closest living primate relatives, exhibit the same biases suggests they’re deeply rooted in our biology.

Plants Both Compete and Communicate with One Another

People might not be surprised that higher primates take gambles, but most would be surprised to hear that plants have the ability to gamble. Plants are a great deal more active than people realize. Plants compete for sunlight and water, as anyone can see from the growth pattern of a line of trees, bushes, or flowers.

Trees also have been shown to be able to communicate with one another. When certain parasitical bugs eat certain plant’s leaves, it sounds out chemicals to kill or drive away the insect. But the plant also sends out pheromonal signals to other nearby plants. These plants respond by ejecting the same types of pheromones.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on,, and

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