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Researchers Tell Us The Strategies To Win Rock-Paper-Scissors

Researchers Tell Us The Strategies To Win Rock-Paper-Scissors

As kids, we all played rock-paper-scissors on a weekly if not daily basis. Why? Because it was a simple (and fun) way to make decisions, one that made both people feel like they had a shot at winning.

Some of us might still play the game today, though perhaps the stakes aren’t quite as high as they were when we were kids!

Have you, however, ever thought about the strategy behind rock-paper-scissors? Can you, for instance, play in a way that maximizes your chances of winning?

The answer is yes, but what may or may not surprise you is that most people don’t take advantage of that fact.

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Recently, researchers in Zhejiang, China ran one of the largest rock-paper-scissors studies in history. They had 360 people playing with each other in games of rock-paper-scissors, with their strategies carefully documented. To ensure each played to win, they were paid based on how many victories they achieved.

Their goal was to see if humans would play the game properly — that is, in the manner that would statistically result in the most victories.

This winning strategy is simpler than you might imagine. Indeed, all you have to do is make your selections randomly, or in other words, in each round of rock-paper-scissors, there needs to be a 1/3 chance that you pick either rock, paper, or scissors.

But, as the researchers note in their findings (which can be read here), “decision-making and learning are very complicated neural processes,” and thus, what they found surprised them.

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While the 360 people taking part in the research experiment seemed to choose random selections on average, there was another underlying trend that the researchers found after digging a bit deeper into their findings.

What they discovered was that those who won a round of rock-paper-scissors were more likely to stick with the choice that brought them victory. Those who lost, they discovered, were more prone to change their selection.

However, what is interesting is that losers chose their next option in a cyclical manner, meaning those who picked rock and lost were more likely to choose paper next, and those who chose paper were more likely to choose scissors, and so on and so forth.

This kind of conditional response was dubbed “the win-stay lose-shift strategy,” which has interesting implications when it comes to understanding human nature, and the game of rock-paper-scissors itself.

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    A competitive rock-paper-scissors competition, where real strategy comes into play.

    Thus, what the researchers concluded is that victory in rock-paper-scissors isn’t dependent on the classical game theory notion that each player play completely randomly to win the game (otherwise known as the Nash Equilibrium for those of you who remember statistics class).

    This is because, as the researchers put it, “[rock-paper-scissors] exhibits collective cyclic motions which cannot be understood by the Nash Equilibrium concept but are successfully explained by the empirical data-inspired conditional response mechanism.”

    Or in other words, to be effective at rock-paper-scissors, you need to know your opponent. Victory is based on reacting to how they play, much more so than it is based on randomly throwing out rock, paper, or scissors. Since this study reveals that most winners stick to their choice, and most losers cyclically move to the next option, you can use that to your advantage to beat novice players of rock-paper-scissors.

    The researchers do note that experienced players of the game are likely to be reactive to your strategies, and thus are far more difficult to defeat. They also say, however, that facing an opponent good enough to break away from the win-stay lose-shift strategy is “rare,” meaning you can raise your chances of victory (on average) by assuming most humans will stick to the simpler, reflex-based strategy.

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    I think we all sort of knew this though based on our experience with rock-paper-scissors. The game was never about being random, it was about trying to predict your opponent’s tendencies and using them to your own advantage. This research simply confirms that to be the case, and gives us the template by which to achieve as many victories against the average player as possible.

    These findings might have implications beyond the world of simple hand games as well. If most humans are prone to reflexive choices, rather than reactive ones, then that might say something not only about how our brains are wired, but about how many of the world’s systems work (for example, the financial market). As such, the researchers say that their next study will be going more in-depth in terms of investigating the nature of our “irrational” choices.

    While there are still many more questions to be answered, you can at least rest easy knowing that with the knowledge above, you’ll be able to outplay the majority of the human population when it comes to rock-paper-scissors.

    Just be sure you don’t challenge someone who’s also familiar with this strategy, else you might have to up your game just a little bit!

    Featured photo credit: Rock Paper 4 via thenypost.files.wordpress.com

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    Last Updated on June 13, 2019

    10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

    10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

    Take a minute and think about some of the most successful people you know.

    I’d bet they’re great with people, are super-productive, and think differently than most. After all, that’s how they got to be where they are today.

    Jealous of them? You don’t have to be.

    You can learn these same skills by studying some of the best business and success books that can help you take your game to the next level. Here’re 10 of my favorites:

    1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

      Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book that helped to launch a personal growth empire should be required reading for everyone who wants to learn how to build and nurture relationships for a lifetime.

      Read this book and you’ll learn some simple advice than can help you build popularity points within your current network and just as important, expand it to others.

      Get the book here!

      2. Focal Point by Brian Tracy

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        Got a lot on your to-do list? Of course you do. But what separates productive people from others is their ability to focus on a singular task at a time, and getting it done before moving on to the next one.

        Sounds simple in theory, but this can be extremely difficult in practice. In Focal Point Brian Tracy offers tips to help build discipline and organization into your day so you can get more stuff done.

        Get the book here!

        3. Purple Cow by Seth Godin

          Creating a “me-too” product can be easy at the start but can doom you to business failure. That’s why marketing maverick Seth Godin recommends creating a product that is truly different from anything already available in the marketplace.

          In essence by making the product different you’ll be building the marketing into the actual product development…which just makes your actual marketing a helluva lot easier.

          Get the book here!

          4. The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz

            If you’ve struggled with procrastination or small thinking, this is the book for you. In it Schwartz offers practical advice that can help you get inspired and motivated to create a bigger life for yourself. And with it can be a more lucrative and rewarding career.

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            Get the book here!

            5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel

              It can be difficult for lots of people to keep things in perspective, especially when working on high priority and urgent projects at work.

              Man’s Search for Meaning can be a life-changing book in the sense that it can open your eyes to a first-hand experience of one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind, while also teaching a valuable lesson about having purpose.

              Get the book here!

              6. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

                Solo-entrepreneurs can learn a ton from the guy who made lifestyle design popular. But guess what? The 4HWW isn’t just for guys and girls who want to start a small online business.

                Smart moves like outsourcing, following the 80/20 rule, and automating processes should be made by entry-level workers and established executives alike.

                Get the book here!

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                7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

                  I remember sitting on a couch and opening this book on a Saturday morning, thinking I’d get through a chapter and then get on with my day. Instead, about 12 hours later, I was finished with the book. The concepts in it were mind-blowing to me.

                  To think that thoughts can create your reality sounded a little far-fetched at first. But after going through the book and understanding that your thoughts create your beliefs, which lead to actions, which then lead to habits….well you can get where I’m going with this.

                  If you focus your thoughts on success, achieving it will be much more likely than thinking about obstacles, failures and everything else that can get in your way.

                  Get the book here!

                  8. The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard

                    If you’re going to read one management book in your life, this should be it. It’s simple. You can read it in an afternoon. And the advice works.

                    Get the book here!

                    9. The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries

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                      Before you create any sort of business you’ll want to give Lean Start-Up a read through. Doing so can save you money, time and other resources you could have potentially wasted otherwise.

                      Get the book here!

                      10. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar

                        The story Randy Komisar shares in the Monk and the Riddle offers advice about not just about how you need to think when starting a new business, but also about how to build a life you’re passionate about.

                        Understanding the technical aspects of launching a start-up is great, but if you don’t have the staying power to stick with it when the going gets tough then it’s not likely to work.

                        This book can help you understand this lesson before you spend blood, sweat and tears on a project that you’re heart isn’t into.

                        Get the book here!

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