“Can’t Read My Poker Face”: Personality Type and Masking Emotion

Some people wear their emotions all over their faces. At a glance, you can tell exactly what kind of day they’re having. Others are harder to read, naturally keeping their facial expressions neutral or working to mask their feelings.

In situations where we really don’t want to show how we’re feeling, many of us can control our faces pretty well, like poker players who don’t want to give away their cards. But some of us – try as we might – just can’t do that. A good poker face can be especially hard to keep up when we’re experiencing something negative.

To explore how this might relate to personality type, we asked our readers whether they agreed with the statement, “You really can’t avoid looking upset when something bad happens to you.” A modest majority (61%) agreed overall, but there was actually quite a bit of variation when it came to two personality aspects: Nature and Identity.

Which personality types have the best poker faces, and which types are more like open books? Let’s examine the data in more detail below.


Diplomats (69% agreeing)

Feeling types were 10 percentage points more likely than Thinking types to agree with our statement (67% vs. 57%), making the Nature personality aspect an important factor in this study. Since all Diplomats share the Feeling trait, this Role topped the results.

Diplomats and other Feeling personality types make sense of their experiences in emotional terms. When you’re constantly in tune with your emotions, it’s just natural that both positive and negative feelings are going to show on your face. Empathetic Diplomats can find it just as difficult to mask their emotions when they’re feeling someone else’s pain as they do when they’re dealing with their own.

But this might not bother Diplomats that much, at least most of the time. After all, Diplomats tend to build strong relationships based on emotional connections, transparency, and trust.

Sentinels and Explorers (62% each)

The Sentinel and Explorer Roles have a mix of Feeling and Thinking personality types, so their responses were somewhat divided. Consistent with the overall results, Sentinels and Explorers with the Feeling trait were more likely to agree with our statement.

Given their shared Observant personality trait, we tend to think of Sentinels and Explorers as more grounded and down-to-earth than Intuitive Diplomats and Analysts. It might be tempting to assume that Observant types would be better at controlling their emotions, but the data shows that the Energy personality aspect wasn’t a significant factor in this study. Neither was the Tactics (Judging-Prospecting) aspect.

Analysts (58%)

As Thinking personality types, Analysts agreed with our statement the least. Analysts move through the world in a logical, objective way that tends to keep them a bit distanced from their emotions. As a result, their facial expressions can sometimes be rather inscrutable (whether they’re aware of it or not), even when something bad happens.

Analysts can certainly feel upset when facing something difficult, but it’s in their nature to try to assess the situation rationally and redirect their energy into finding a solution.


Social Engagement and Constant Improvement (75% and 73% agreeing)

The Turbulent personality trait had the greatest influence on this study: Turbulent types were 25 percentage points more likely than Assertive types to say that they can’t avoid looking upset when something bad happens to them (74% vs. 49%).

For Social Engagers and Constant Improvers, having a Turbulent Identity means that they tend to have strong emotional reactions in the moment – dynamic peaks and valleys. This is true regardless of whether they possess the Feeling or Thinking personality trait. When something bad happens, their first impulse is to respond emotionally, making it more likely that their feelings will show outwardly on their faces. And they often feel self-conscious about showing their emotions so easily.

This is especially true of the two personality types who agreed with our statement at the highest rate: Turbulent Protagonists (ENFJ-T) and Turbulent Executives (ESTJ-T) (78% each). Protagonists are known for being very optimistic, idealistic, and hopeful, so when bad things happen, it may feel like a shocking and unexpected surprise. Turbulence makes it harder for them to reconcile their upbeat personal outlook with harsh realities. It also makes them acutely aware of when their feelings are written all over their faces.

It might seem surprising to see Executives agreeing at such a high rate, since we tend to think of them as unflappable, businesslike personalities. And they are, most of the time. But Executives aren’t always great at coping with emotions. They’re also so firmly set in their beliefs about right and wrong that if something goes badly, it can shake them deeply enough that it’s no wonder they have a hard time hiding it. The stronger the Turbulence, the harder it gets.

It’s possible that Extraverted Social Engagers agreed at a slightly higher rate than Introverted Constant Improvers because they spend more time in social situations where they might not want to reveal their true feelings. But statistically, the difference between Extraverts and Introverts in this study was not significant.

People Mastery and Confident Individualism (50% and 47%)

Having an Assertive Identity tends to make People Masters and Confident Individualists more self-assured and even-tempered than their Turbulent counterparts. They’re not as easily rattled, excited, or provoked. That doesn’t mean that they’re less honest about their feelings, just that they tend to have more balanced reactions. If something bad happens, these usually steady personalities might become visibly upset when they’d prefer not to – but they won’t spend much time worrying about it or regretting it after the fact.

Assertive Architects (INTJ-A) and Assertive Logicians (INTP-A) tied as the least likely personality types to agree with our statement (35% each). These Analysts are confident, brilliant thinkers, but they’re often not as in touch with their emotions or with the social realm as they could be.

When bad things happen to them, Architects waste little time in conceiving a plan to minimize damage or distress and move forward. Logicians’ minds will also go into overdrive in search of solutions, and they may appear even more detached from reality than usual. For the most part, monitoring their facial expressions is just not high on the priority list for either type, especially if they have an Assertive Identity.


Our ability to broadcast our emotions on our faces is one of the unique things about human communication. Even so, there are times when we’d rather not let people see our feelings on our faces, especially when some misfortune has occurred.

A good poker face is hardest for Feeling and Turbulent types to achieve. For these personalities, expressing their feelings – verbally or nonverbally – is a natural way of processing them. If this describes you, try not to be hard on yourself. There are worse things than allowing someone to see that you’re upset.

Personalities with the Thinking and Assertive traits often take a more rational, even-keeled view of things, so they appear more outwardly composed. That’s a fine approach, as long as you’re finding ways to cope with your troubles and not allowing negative feelings to build up. Remember that it’s healthy to let your emotions out and ask for help when you need to.

What about you? How good is your poker face? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Further Reading

Closing the Can of Worms: Which Personality Types Have Trouble Controlling Negative Thoughts?

Personality Type and Intense Emotional Reactions (Part Two)

Keeping on the Sunny Side