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Poker brain

Cutting Edge Technology

If you play poker, you could have a huge advantage over opponents if you monitor changes in their blood flow and the resulting amount of oxygen that reaches their brain.

But to do that you’d need some functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) equipment, which might be conspicuous in a casino, or even at home.

FMRI is a relatively new method of neuroimaging that maps neural activity by measuring blood flow and blood oxygenation changes in the brain. In a recent study, researchers at the California Institute of Technology used fMRI to identify the primary areas of the brain where gambling behavior is processed.

About 20 men and women were asked to place bets on a simple high-card-wins game while being monitored with fMRI. Researchers were able to spot sections in the brain where risk and reward were assessed at the moment of anticipation before the drawing of a second card. They also found that risk perception was slightly delayed compared to reward perception, which was immediate.

The Caltech team hopes to apply the findings to the development of improved treatment for gambling addiction and other risk-taking disorders.