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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 July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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