Scientists Use Poker to Study Brain Responses in Social Situations

Scientists Use Poker to Study Brain Responses in Social Situations July 10, 2012 July 10, 2012 Tim Glocks
Posted on  Jul 10, 2012 | Updated on  Jul 10, 2012 by Tim Glocks

Researchers at Duke University have conducted a study on the strategy of bluffing in poker, as a result of which they have found information regarding a brain centre that might have a major role to play in helping people make decisions in a social setup.

The research team used scanners on 20 subjects and observed how their brain reacted when they were playing a variant of poker either online or against other people.

The research study has been published in Journal Science. According to this study, the temporal parietal junction of the brain was most responsive when players played against human opponents. Upon observing the responses in this brain area, scientists could easily predict that the subject was getting ready to bluff.

Scott Huettel, author of this scientific study, says that this indicates that this brain area has an important role to play in coordinating interpersonal relationships.

Professor of neuroscience and psychology in North Carolina University, Huettel said that this brain area detects if the person one is engaged with is relevant for the subject’s behavior.

The team of researchers used a simple one-card variant of poker for their research. If the card was high, it would win if the player decided to place a bet. If it was low, it would lose if the player placed a bet on it. The players could either win money on their high card or bluff when they got a low card.

The subjects bluffed on an average of 54 percent of the time. The research team scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a method used to track the flow of blood to get a detailed picture of brain activity.

The funds for this study were provided by the Maryland-based National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

According to the findings, the brain’s temporary parietal junction plays an independent and unique role “in representing information predictable of behavioral actions during social interactions.”

The scientists found that the temporary parietal junction was very active when a player found him/herself face to face with an opponent whose moves could be imitated and therefore helpful while making a decision in future and not that active when a player was player online. These differences between the brain area’s responses when a poker player was playing against another poker player and when a player was playing against the computer illustrate “a unique sensitivity of this region to perceived behavioral relevance of other agents.”

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Tim Glocks is a retired professor, he currently contributes to Tim enjoys playing poker and has taken it up as a hobby since his retirement. He has taken part in many online tournaments and has become a veteran in a short space of time. Visit Tim’s google + page here