Poker face science

The best ‘poker face’ is probably not a neutral expression, but a happy one, as it led to a greater number of opponent mistakes in a study just published in PLoS One.

The research looked at how poker playing was influenced by the emotional expression of opponents and discovered that blank and threatening expressions had little effect, but a positive expression tends to lull people into a false sense of trust and puts them off their game.

Taken from the study abstract:

This study investigates whether an opponent’s face influences players’ wagering decisions in a zero-sum game with hidden information. Participants made risky choices in a simplified poker task while being presented opponents whose faces differentially correlated with subjective impressions of trust. Surprisingly, we find that threatening face information has little influence on wagering behavior, but faces relaying positive emotional characteristics impact peoples’ decisions.

Thus, people took significantly longer and made more mistakes against emotionally positive opponents. Differences in reaction times and percent correct were greatest around the optimal decision boundary, indicating that face information is predominantly used when making decisions during medium-value gambles. Mistakes against emotionally positive opponents resulted from increased folding rates, suggesting that participants may have believed that these opponents were betting with hands of greater value than other opponents.

According to these results, the best “poker face” for bluffing may not be a neutral face, but rather a face that contains emotional correlates of trustworthiness. Moreover, it suggests that rapid impressions of an opponent play an important role in competitive games, especially when people have little or no experience with an opponent.

Link to Pubmed entry for study.
Link to full-text of study at PLoS One.


  1. hat_eater
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “According to these results, the best “poker face” for bluffing may not be a neutral face, but rather a face that contains emotional correlates of trustworthiness.”
    Note that the players who participated in the study were all novices. So I’d think twice before using this “positive expression” in real life poker games.

  2. Kthejoker
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Kenneth Parcell was all up in this knowledge back in Season 1.

  3. Posted November 20, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Your blog was very interesting and enjoyable to read and experience.

  4. jorjette
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    yes, but one can only keep smiling for so long:) :) :)…. :(

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