How To: Use Science To Win At Rock-Paper-Scissors Every Time

The classic tiebreaker just got a lot easier to game.

There's only one way to settle disputes over trash take-out and last-pizza-slice dibs: good ol' Rock-Paper-Scissors. We've depended on it for fair, unbiased, and even-handed justice since childhood, but a recent study suggests there may be a way to gain an upper hand in this game. Scientists at Zhejiang University in China have found that there are actually established patterns players subconsciously follow. Learn the patterns and you might never have to take out the trash again.

The Style Blog over at The Washington Post does a great job of condensing the study's findings into something you can actually use to your advantage the next time you've got to throw down for shotgun on a long drive. Here's how people usually make instant rock-paper-scissors decisions:

People start by picking each variable (rock, paper, or scissors) about one-third of the time. You can’t really game this stage, BUT after the first round:
— If a player wins, he will usually stick with the same play.
— If a player loses, he will usually switch actions in “a clockwise direction.” So, rock changes to paper, paper to scissors, scissors to rock.

What this means, as deduced by WaPo bloggers, is that this is how a round would typically go down:

Round 1: Emily plays paper, I play rock. She wins.
Round 2: Emily plays paper, I switch to paper. We draw.
Round 3: Emily plays scissors, I switch to scissors. Another draw! I lose.

BUT, if you're familiar with the patterns, you can stay one step ahead of them. Like this:

Round 1: Emily plays paper, I play rock. She wins.
Round 2: Emily plays paper, I switch to scissors. I win.
Round 3: Emily switches to scissors, I switch to rock. I win again!

Read more of WaPo's insights on this study (and its uses/limits). Good shootin', gentlemen.

Image via arxiv.org

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