Poker Brain: Professional Players Show Very Different Brain Activity Compared To Amateurs

The brains of professional and amateur poker players respond very differently during different stages of the game. In a recent study conducted by Simple Usability, a London-based behavioral research consultancy, EEG headsets were used to record the location and intensity of brain activity of poker players during forty minutes of Texas Hold'em.

There were actually three separate categories: beginner, amateur, and expert. The study included two participants from each category – one playing for money and the other playing for free. The researchers monitored delta, theta, alpha and beta activity in the brains, and converted the activity into interactive brain maps.

The maps clearly show that the beginning of the game is most intense in the right frontal lobe of amateur players. Researchers say this indicates decision making driven by logic. At this time both the beginner and the expert showed activity in the same region, but in much smaller amounts.

Once the first three cards were introduced, face up, the brain maps told a much different story. The amateurs showed activity in only the left frontal lobe, indicating their emotional response to the cards with little experience or logic to advise it coming from the right.

The expert players, on the other hand, had a full wave of beta activity in both frontal lobes, indicating the use of both logic and emotional instinct. Meanwhile, the beginner exhibited very little activity, indicating their inability to respond to the data due to lack of experience.

As might be expected, the maps peaked in activity for all players when the stakes were raised.

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