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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 March 31, 2020

    How To Break the Procrastination Cycle

    How To Break the Procrastination Cycle

    How often do you find yourself procrastinating? Do you wish you could procrastinate less? We all know how debilitating procrastination can make us feel, and it seems to be a challenge we all share. Procrastination is one of the biggest hindrances to moving forward and doing the things that we want to in life.

    There are many reasons why you might be procrastinating, and sometimes, it is really difficult to pinpoint why. You might be procrastinating because of something related to the past, present, or future (they are all intertwined), or it could be as simple as biological factors. Whatever the reason, most of us follow a cycle when we procrastinate, from the moment we decide to do something to actually getting it done, or in this case, not getting it done.

    The Vicious Procrastination Cycle

    For some reason, it helps to understand that we all go through the same thing, even though we often feel like the only person in the world who struggles with this. Do you resonate with the cycle below?

    1. Feeling Eager and Energized

    This is when you commit to taking a new action or getting something done. You are feeling confident and optimistic that, this time round, you will do it!

    2. Apprehension Starts to Come Up

    The beginning stages of optimism are starting to fade. There is still time, but you haven’t done anything yet, and you start to feel uneasy. You realize that you actually have to do something to get it done, and that good intentions are not enough.

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    3. Still No Action

    More time has passed. You still haven’t taken any action and probably have a lot of excuses why. You start to panic a little and wish you had started sooner. Your panic starts to turn into frustration and perhaps even irritability.

    4. Flicker of Hope Left

    You can still make it; there is a little time left and you ponder how you are going to get it done. The rush you get from leaving your task until the last minute gives you a flicker of hope. There is still time; you can do this!

    5. Fading Quickly

    Your hope starts to quickly fade as you try desperately to understand why you just can’t do this. You may feel desperate and have thoughts like, “What is wrong with me?” and “Why do I ALWAYS do this?” You feel discouraged, or perhaps angry and resentful at yourself.

    6. Vow to Yourself

    Once the feeling of anger or disappointment disappears, you most likely swear to yourself that this will never happen again; that this was the last time and next time will be different.

    Does this sound like you? Is the next time different? I understand the devastating effect that procrastination has on many lives, and for some, it is a really serious problem. You also have, on the other hand, those who procrastinate but it doesn’t affect them in any way. You know whether it is affecting you or not and whether it undermines your results.

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    How to Break the Procrastination Cycle

    Unless you break the cycle, you will keep reinforcing it!

    To break the cycle, you need to change the sequence of events. Here is my suggestion on how you can effectively break the vicious cycle you are in!

    1. Feeling Eager and Energized

    This is when you commit to taking a new action or getting something done. You are feeling confident and optimistic that, this time round, you will do it! The first stage is always the same.

    2. Plan

    Thinking alone will not help; you need to plan your actions. I always put my deadlines one or two days in advance because you know Murphy’s Law! Take into consideration everything that you need to do, how long it will take you, and what you will need to get it done, then plan the individual steps.

    3. Resistance

    Just because you planned doesn’t mean that this time is guaranteed to be different. You will most likely still feel the resistance so expect this. This stage is key to identifying why you are procrastinating, so when you feel the resistance, try to identify it immediately.

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    What is causing you to hesitate in this moment? What do you feel?  Write them down if it helps.

    4. Confront Those Feelings

    Once you have identified what could possibly be holding you back, for example, fear of failure, lack of motivation, etc. You need to work on lessening the resistance.

    Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to move forward? What would make it easier?” If you find that you fear something, overcoming that fear is not something that will happen overnight — keep this in mind.

    5. Put Results Before Comfort

    You need to keep moving forward and put results before comfort. Take action, even if it is only for 10 minutes. The key is to break the cycle and not reinforce it. You have more control that you think.

    6. Repeat

    Repeat steps 3-5 until you achieve what you first set out to do.

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    Final Thoughts

    Change doesn’t happen overnight, and if you have some deeper underlying reasons why you procrastinate, it may take longer to finally break the cycle.

    If procrastination is holding you back in life, it is better to deal with it now than to deal with the negative consequences later on. It is not a question of comfort anymore; it is a question of results. What is more important to you?

    Learn more about how to stop procrastinating here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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