When Is a Poker Face Not a Poker Face?

A new study finds that a resolutely neutral facial expression may not be the best strategy when playing poker. “Surprisingly, we find that threatening face information has little influence on wagering behavior, but faces relaying positive emotional characteristics impact peoples’ decisions,” write?Erik J. Schlicht, Shinsuke Shimojo, Colin F. Camerer, Peter Battaglia, and Ken Nakayama. Opponents of “emotionally positive” players mistakenly folded more often. The authors conclude that “the best ‘poker face’ for bluffing may not be a neutral face, but rather a face that contains emotional correlates of trustworthiness.” (HT: Joel Schnur) [%comments]

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  1. Flush beats a straight. says:

    When Lady Gaga is wearing it.

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  2. Craig says:

    So, when playing against top-tier players, why do other players even look at their faces? The few times I played poker, I liked to wear a hat with a large brim, and look down at the table at all times. That way I wouldn’t be psyched out by my opponents’ behavior and I conveyed less of my (non-)poker face.

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  3. Eric M. Jones says:

    Thanks. All the worst sociopaths already knew this. Now everyone else does too.

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  4. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Maybe you can post a link to Photos of the 10 Most successful Poker Players of all time.

    Let’s see how honest and trustworthy their Mugs are, compared to ‘Joe the Plumber’ and our current politicians

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  5. frankenduf says:

    a ‘poker face’ is an iterative concept- therefore it is more important to vary face/hand correlation (presuming the opponent is paying attention)- one scifi scenario that i haven’t heard mentioned is combining facial recognition software with poker computers- the hypothesis would be that machines would be better at reading ‘tells’ than humans and have another advantage over human players

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  6. Nick says:

    “So, when playing against top-tier players, why do other players even look at their faces? The few times I played poker, I liked to wear a hat with a large brim, and look down at the table at all times. That way I wouldn’t be psyched out by my opponents’ behavior and I conveyed less of my (non-)poker face.”

    Possibly because playing by the numbers usually isn’t good enough at those levels, they need to attempt to read their opponents facial features, twitches, body posture, to attempt to read them and gain any slight advantage they might have. Otherwise you might as well be playing a computer versus computer game, if you’re going by statistics, and why would you do that if you dind’t think you had any advantage over the other guy?

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  7. Johan says:

    This really is not a very convincing study. The facial expressions used were not organic and thus not relevant. I certainly wuld not care what face the computor shows me. I would assume that the program gnerates random hands and assigns to them a random face… Either the people participating i the experimet were very naive or simply not clever.

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  8. Erik Schlicht says:

    @ Johan:
    The faces used in this study were borrowed from a group from Princeton: http://webscript.princeton.edu/~tlab/publications/
    If you’d read the study, you would know that these faces were quantitatively derived to optimally predict people’s subjective impressions of trust. Moreover, these faces have been shown to activate emotional areas of our brain (i.e., Amygdala), so they are ‘relevant’. Finally, people were led to believe that different opponents may have different wagering styles. Therefore, they’re not being naive (as you claim) if they’re using a conscious strategy. However, an interesting side-note is that I did encounter several people (like yourself) that claim to have *not* used face information, whatsoever. But, in analyzing their data, I would find this not to be true: they still folded at greater rates against trustworthy opponents. So, this (consistent) effect could be the result of: 1. a conscious strategy; 2. an implicit reaction; or 3. both.

    At the end of the day, what I found surprising wasn’t that people used face information to modify their wagering, but rather, that everyone used face information in a similar manner!

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