Poker – More Than Just a Game

When most people think of Poker – they think of it as a game played in many different situations, from a friendly game around a kitchen table on a Friday night, to a high stakes tournament with professional players and millions of dollars at stake.


And sure, poker is a game, BUT it is also a great way to study the nature and psychological composition of man. Believe it or not, there are scientists and researchers that dedicate thousands of hours to studying the effects of poker on the human organism.

Poker’s Effect on the Body

In several scientific studies, researchers measured the level cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body of players, and came to the conclusion that during the game of poker cortisol levels were significantly lowered. This may seem counter-intuitive because poker is full of stressful situations, but the key point here is the difference between good stress and bad stress.  

Bad stress is usually a result of situations that are outside of our control, or where we have minimal control. An unhealthy relationship, a tyrannical boss, these are scenarios where there is very little outlet for stress, one pretty much has to internalize it – which is terrible for one’s health.

Good stress, on the other hand, is observed in situations where one has a significant level of control over the situation. A challenging job where hard work is required, but one has a lot of input and is where one’s feedback is valued is one example of a good-stress scenario.

The game of poker is another example of good stress. This is due to the fact that poker is a game of skill, which allows players to have significant control over the outcome (especially in the long run). Additionally, when the brain begins to concentrate on what is happening at the table, the player can forget, for the time being, his everyday worries that are causing bad stress. This can even become a mindfulness exercise when a player gets in the “zone”.

The more regularly a person plays poker, the more he notices that the outcome of events can usually be influenced by their improving level of skill. As the player develops the logical thinking, patience, confidence and other skills necessary to become a winner, a positive feedback loop is formed. And the benefits of this positive feedback loop can carry far beyond the poker table.

Experienced players admit that poker helps them in all kinds of life situations. For example, when making important life decisions, such as purchasing a home, or going after a dream job, or making a large financial investment, they already have confidence  in their decision making process. This confidence, in turn, helps them make the right decision.



Poker’s Effect on the Brain

In addition to impacting a person’s hormonal levels (and overall sense of well-being), the game of poker can serve as “exercise for the brain”. For quite some time now, it has been theorized that  games that are mentally challenging are a good way to keep the brain healthy, improve one’s memory, and reduce the chances of illness such as Alzheimer’s .

More and more scientific evidence is emerging to support this theory. A recent study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society drew a lot of attention in the brain-science community due to its clinical trial findings, collected over a sample of 2,800 participants.

The study, found long-lasting benefits which were evident up to 10 years after the brain-training exercises were performed. It was not determined whether certain brain-training activities such as learning a musical instrument are more beneficial for the brain, when compared to others such as playing chess, or poker. The common element, however was that the activities studied were all mentally engaging.

All in all there is a great amount of evidence that games such as poker can be good for you. One important thing to remember, however, is that any form of gaming is only beneficial if it is done in moderation. One should never play with money they cannot afford to lose nor should one indulge in a gaming binge.

The good news for those who wish to try their hand at poker (pun intended) is that it is now possible to play online poker in the US (in some states). Who knows, you may be able to train your brain, and get paid doing it – all from the comfort of your own home.

Last, but not least if you are interested in learning more about the brain and how it your life’s daily outcomes, check out this infographic that we published a little while ago.

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