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Decoding the Psychology Behind Rock-Paper-Scissors

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May 02, 2014 05:11 AM EDT
rock,paper, scissors
(Photo : schnick schnack schnuck/ Flickr Creative Commons )

Researchers from China have found that people fall into a specific pattern while playing rock-paper-scissors. Decoding the psychology behind the game could improve a sneaky player's chances of winning.

The popular game is not only used to settle bar tabs, but also to study competition phenomenon in society and even species diversity in biology. 

Previously, it was believed that people follow "the Nash equilibrium" in selecting their options. Ideally, people would randomly pick one of the three options equally over time to keep their responses unpredictable.

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However, the new study suggests that on a large scale, players use a pattern to choose their options.  During the first round, people pick randomly. However, in the second round, losers switch their choices clockwise. Players use the "win-stay, lose-shift" strategy to maximize their chances of winning, according to MIT Technology Review.

The study was conducted by researchers at Zhejiang University. The team recruited 360 students and divided them into groups of six. Participants then played 300 rounds of the game in random pairings. The students won money each time they won a game. During the games, researchers noted how participants chose their options, arstechnica reported. 

The team found that when people won a game, their chances of repeating the same action were higher during the second round. However, when people lost, they were more likely to switch their options- going from rock to paper to scissors to rock, Washington Post reported

According to the researchers, the study shows that players use conditioned response to increase their chances of winning.Conditioned response is a learned behavior towards a specific stimulus.

 "On a more biological side, whether conditional response is a basic decision-making mechanism of the human brain or just a consequence of more fundamental neural mechanisms is a challenging question for future studies," the Zhejiang researchers wrote in the study paper.

Read the full research paper, here.

Whether the strategy is applicable to a game of rock-paper-scissor-lizard and Spock is still a mystery! 

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