Wednesday, May 19, 2010
To Listen or Not?
Through out college and medical school I listened to music while studying. I was convinced that it aided my studies. I was an above average student in both college and med school and so I naturally assumed bringing music to the poker tables would be similarly effective.
I have always felt that listening to music was helpful at blocking outside distractions at the poker table. I was under the impression that I was able to focus more on my opponents betting patterns and make better decisions with my game play while listening to music. Tuning out the annoying conversation that sometimes are going on or the obnoxious players who are trying to put their opponents on tilt is easier to do when you have music blaring.
Since music is such a powerful evoker of emotion it also has a function in affecting game play as desired. Listening to more aggressive music can make you more aggressive at the table if you desire. If you are on tilt listening to soft/calm music might take the edge off of your agitation. Playing less than 10% of your hands in a super tight style can be quite boring for some. Listening to music might keep you occupied and erase boredom so one can maintain this style for longer periods of time.
There are however some clear drawbacks to listening to music while playing. The simplest of the issues is the fact that you cannot hear verbally binding plays. Although this rarely is an issue for me since I have one ear piece off, it can be annoying to the dealer and other players.
The biggest drawback as I saw it was that sometimes people at the table talk about their hands, strategy and play. I have in the past used this information to make better decisions later in the game. Tuning this type of talk out might potentially rob me of a wealth of information. Since many of my most profitable games have been while listening to music, I felt it was worth the sacrifice.
Then I read a research article in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science published by some UCLA scientists. The goal of the study was to evaluate if listening to music while studying enhanced or hindered the process. In the study they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see what part of the brain was active with and without music while studying. Studying alone activated the hippocampus, which helps us with development, organization and processing of memories. The hippocampus seems to be one of the first parts of the brain to go when one develops Alzheimer's disease. While listening to music brain function seems to be drawn away from the important hippocampus to another part of the brain called the striatum. The striatum is best known for being a pleasure/reward center but is also responsible for reflexive movement and thought tasks (from swinging a baseball bat to grabbing a piece of candy under stress). The researchers theorized that "learning with the striatum leads to knowledge that cannot be generalized as well in new situations."
So now lets bring this back to the poker table. If we are listening to music while playing we might be more consistent and less deviant while using a generalized strategy that we intend to implement. The pleasure that is evoked might also make a boring strategy more tolerable. In my case tight aggressive play. It is worth noting that since we are slighting our hippocampus, our ability to recall and process the new memories we develop at the table might be diminished thus hurting the adaptability in our game. Isn't this what separates the great from the okay players?
It is going to be hard for me to swallow this and try to play without music. I have been studying and playing poker for many years with music. Although I might not be ready to give my headphones up just yet, it is something I will need to consider more if I plan on bringing my game to a new level.