Journal of Gambling Studies

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 933–947 | Cite as

Emotional and Social Factors influence Poker Decision Making Accuracy

  • Michael Laakasuo
  • Jussi Palomäki
  • Mikko Salmela
Original Paper


Poker is a social game, where success depends on both game strategic knowledge and emotion regulation abilities. Thus, poker provides a productive environment for studying the effects of emotional and social factors on micro-economic decision making. Previous research indicates that experiencing negative emotions, such as moral anger, reduces mathematical accuracy in poker decision making. Furthermore, various social aspects of the game—such as losing against “bad players” due to “bad luck”—seem to fuel these emotional states. We designed an Internet-based experiment, where participants’ (N = 459) mathematical accuracy in five different poker decision making tasks were assessed. In addition, we manipulated the emotional and social conditions under which the tasks were presented, in a 2 × 2 experimental setup: (1) Anger versus neutral emotional state—participants were primed either with an anger-inducing, or emotionally neutral story, and (2) Social cue versus non-social cue—during the tasks, either an image of a pair of human eyes was “following” the mouse cursor, or an image of a black moving box was presented. The results showed that anger reduced mathematical accuracy of decision making only when participants were “being watched” by a pair of moving eyes. Experienced poker players made mathematically more accurate decisions than inexperienced ones. The results contribute to current understanding on how emotional and social factors influence decision making accuracy in economic games.


Poker Decision making Emotions Anger 



We wish to thank the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, the Kone Foundation, and the Academy of Finland for their financial support in this project. We also wish to thank the following Finnish poker communities for their interest in our research:, and We would like to thank Arttu Manninen ( for writing the code for the eye stimulus. Lastly, we are grateful to Apophenia for providing us with ideas and inspiration.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Participation in this Internet-based study was voluntary, and the anonymity of all respondents was guaranteed. Information provided by respondents will be used only for scientific purposes.


  1. Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2006). The heat of the moment: The effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bateson, M., Nettle, D., & Roberts, G. (2006). Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters, 2, 412–414.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bjerg, O. (2011). Poker: The parody of capitalism. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  4. Boyer, P., & Barrett, H. C. (2005). Domain specificity and intuitive ontology. In Buss, D. M. (Ed.), Handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 96–188). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  5. Browne, B. R. (1989). Going on tilt: Frequent poker players and control. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 3–21.Google Scholar
  6. Cannon, P. R., Schnall, S., & White, M. (2011). Transgressions and expressions affective facial muscle activity predicts moral judgments. Social psychological and personality science, 2, 325–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carruthers, P. (2006). The architecture of the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chapman, H. A., Kim, D. A., Susskind, J. M., & Anderson, A. K. (2009). In bad taste: Evidence for the oral origins of moral disgust. Science, 323, 1222–1226.Google Scholar
  9. Corless, T., & Dickerson, M. (1989). Gamblers’ self-perceptions of the determinants of impaired control. British Journal of Addiction, 84, 1527–1537.Google Scholar
  10. Damasio, A. R., Grabowski, T. J., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Ponto, L. L., Parvizi, J., & Hichwa, R. D. (2000). Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. Nature neuroscience, 3, 1049–1056.Google Scholar
  11. Denzler, M., Förster, J., & Liberman, N. (2009). How goal-fulfillment decreases aggression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 90–100.Google Scholar
  12. Evans, J. S. B. T. (2008). Dual-Processing accounts of reasoning, judgment, and social cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 255–278.Google Scholar
  13. Fehr, E., Fischbacher, U., & Kosfeld, M. (2005). Neuroeconomic foundations of trust and social preferences: initial evidence. American Economic Review, 95, 346–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fehr, E., & Gächter, S. (2002). Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature, 415, 137–140.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2008). Social cognition: From brains to culture. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  16. Golder, S. A., & Donath, J. (2004). Hiding and revealing in online poker games. In Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 370–373). ACM.Google Scholar
  17. Greene, J. D., Morelli, S. A., Lowenberg, K., Nystrom, L. E., Cohen, J. D. (2008). Cognitive load selectively interferes with utilitarian moral judgment. Cognition, 107, 1144–1154.Google Scholar
  18. Haidt, J. (2001). Emotional dog and its rational tail. Psychological Review, 108, 814–834.Google Scholar
  19. Hassin, R., Uleman, J., & Bargh, J. (Eds.). (2005). The new unconscious. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kurzban, R., DeScioli, P., & O’Brien, E. (2007). Audience effects on moralistic punishment. Evolution and Human behavior, 28, 75–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2001). Fear, anger, and risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 146–159.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Liley, J., & Rakow, T. (2009). Probability estimation in poker: A qualified success for unaided judgment. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 23, 496–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moretti, L., & di Pellegrino, G. (2010). Disgust selectively modulates reciprocal fairness in economic interactions. Emotion, 10, 169.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. O’Leary, K., & Carroll, C. (2012). The online poker sub-culture: Dialogues, interactions and networks. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 1–18.Google Scholar
  25. Palomäki, J., Laakasuo, M., & Salmela, M. (2014). Losing more by losing it: Poker experience, sensitivity to losses and tilting severity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 187–200. doi: 10.1007/s10899-012-9339-4.Google Scholar
  26. Palomäki, J., Laakasuo, M., & Salmela, M. (2013a). This is just so unfair!: A qualitative analysis of loss-induced emotions and tilting in on-line poker. International Gambling Studies, 13, 255–270. doi: 10.1080/14459795.2013.780631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Palomäki, J., Laakasuo, M., & Salmela, M. (2013b). Don’t worry, it’s just poker!: Experience, self-rumination and self-reflection as determinants of decision-making in on-line poker. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 491–505. doi: 10.1007/s10899-012-9311-3.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Peters, E., Västfjäll, D., Gärling, T., & Slovic, P. (2006). Affect and decision making: A “hot” topic. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 79–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pillutla, M. M., & Murnighan, J. K. (1996). Unfairness, anger, and spite: Emotional rejections of ultimatum offers. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 68, 208–224.Google Scholar
  30. Powell, K. L., Roberts, G., & Nettle, D. (2012). Eye images increase charitable donations: Evidence from an opportunistic field experiment in a supermarket. Ethology, 118, 1096–1101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rockloff, M. J., & Dyer, V. (2007). An experiment of the social facilitation of gambling behavior. Journal of Gambling Studies, 23, 1–12.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Sanfey, A. G., Rilling, J. K., Aronson, J. A., Nystrom, L. E., & Cohen, J. D. (2003). The neural basis of economic decision-making in the ultimatum game. Science, 300, 1755–1758.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Siler, K. (2010). Social and psychological challenges of poker. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 401–420.Google Scholar
  34. Schlicht, E. J., Shimojo, S., Camerer, C. F., Battaglia, P., & Nakayma, K. (2010). Human wagering behavior depends on oppoponents’ faces. PloS One, 5, e11663. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011663.
  35. Seale, D. A., & Phelan, S. E. (2009). Bluffing and betting behavior in a simplified poker game. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 23, 335–352.Google Scholar
  36. Tendler, J. (2011). The mental game of poker: Proven strategies for improving tilt control, confidence, motivation, coping with variance, and more. Self-published.Google Scholar
  37. Wilson, T. (2002). Strangers to ourselves: Discovering the adaptive unconscious. Cambridge: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  38. Zak, P. J. (2004). Neuroeconomics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Laakasuo
    • 1
  • Jussi Palomäki
    • 1
  • Mikko Salmela
    • 2
  1. 1.Cognitive Science Unit, Institute of Behavioural SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Helsinki Collegium for Advanced StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations