Article

Show Me Your Poker Face: Are Poker Players Better at Recognizing Emotional Expressions?

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Abstract

Two previous studies have found that paranoid schizophrenics are able to more accurately recognize genuine emotional expressions compared to both normal individuals and individuals diagnosed with other types of schizophrenia (LaRusso, 1978; Davis & Gibson, 2000). Additionally, paranoid schizophrenics more easily distinguish between genuine and posed expressions, whereas normal individuals typically label all expressions as genuine. Paranoid schizophrenics likely find it quite important to distinguish between "fake" and "real" emotions; this suggests that we might also find superior performance in other populations who would benefit from this skill. The purpose of this study was to use a database of genuine emotional expressions to evaluate the facial emotion recognition accuracy for poker players and non-poker players. It was hypothesized that face-to-face poker players should be better at recognizing subtle, genuine emotional expressions than non-poker players. Poker players who frequently play face-to-face poker were recruited from campus and a charity poker tournament. Non-poker players were recruited from campus. There were a total of 59 participants (15 campus poker players, 20 charity poker players, and 24 non-poker players). Participants were shown five different emotions (neutral, happy, disgust, fear, and sad) for eight different faces (4 male, 4 female). Surprisingly, we found no advantage in overall accuracy rates for poker players compared to non-poker players. In fact, the poker players were actually worse at recognizing emotions overall. A more detailed look at the data revealed that poker players recognized happy expressions significantly better than a non-poker player. These data suggest that rather than an overall increase in emotion recognition accuracy, poker players may instead develop superior performance for recognizing cues that someone has a "good hand." These results support the idea that it is possible to increase performance for recognizing emotions, and that sensitivity can be selectively heightened for only emotions that are task-relevant. Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013

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