Strategic games, such as poker, require gamblers to develop several skills to perform better than others and to expect a potential gain. Players must remain as unpredictable and unreadable as possible by inhibiting the expression of their emotions in response to both good and bad poker events. The aim of the present study was to compare several aspects of the inhibition process in experienced poker gamblers and controls to better understand how inhibitory control is involved in poker performance.
Thirty experienced non-pathological poker gamblers (EG) and thirty healthy controls with no or limited poker experience (HC) completed 3 cognitive tasks. Each task measured a specific type of inhibition: motor inhibition [Go/No-Go task], verbal inhibition [Hayling Sentence Completion Task] and expressive inhibition [expressive suppression task, which combines subjective, expressive (facial EMG) and physiological (skin conductance, heart interbeat interval, cardiovascular and respiratory activation) measures of emotional experience]. Linear mixed models with random effects were performed.
Inhibitory control skills were similar between the two groups, regardless of the form of inhibition tested. The only difference observed in EG was a higher ability to partially suppress the physiological expression of emotion. However, this difference was only present for negative and positive emotional induction and was not maintained for emotional induction related to poker situations.