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How to win at rock-paper-scissors: New study reveals secrets

Rock-paper-scissors may be just a harmless game for some, but to scientists, it's a window into how humans adapt (or don't) after a loss.
/ Source: TODAY

For most of us, rock-paper-scissors is just a game. But scientists see it differently — and thanks to a new study, they think they've figured out how you can win more consistently.

But first, you'll have to stop being so darned irrational!

Rock paper scissors
Be prepared to use strategy, or even get sneaky with your opponents in rock, paper, scissors.Shutterstock /

The study, "Negative outcomes evoke cyclic irrational decisions in Rock, Paper, Scissors" was published online last month at It details how scientists examined the way people play the game to better understand how we make decisions after a loss.

The answer: Not very well.

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While studying subjects who played against a computerized opponent (which had been programmed to use a number of strategies), human players tended to over-choose "rock." And after losing a round, they rarely stuck to any particular strategy.

"It's worrying that people tended to make more irrational decisions following a loss," Dr. Ben Dyson, lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, told The Daily Mail. "These irrational decisions are driven by an emotional reaction to a negative outcome and leave people vulnerable to a smart opponent."

Dyson also noted that the implications go beyond the game, and could indicate players who would be outmaneuvered in politics or economics.

Rock paper scissors
To win, maybe stop being so rational about your decision-making. Why not paper, scissors, rock?Shutterstock / villorejo

During one trial, results pointed to three discoveries: One, most people tended to repeat the choice that wins for them until they finally lose with it; two, that of the three items most likely to be picked, people liked "rock" the best; and three, you have a better chance of winning if you choose "paper."

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Back in 2006, Graham Walker, veteran player and five-time organizer of the World Rock-Paper-Scissors Championships, shared some similar results on the RPS website. He agreed that "rookies" choose rock frequently, but noted that if you're playing someone who throws two of the same moves in a row, they'll probably change the third time to something that won for them before.

And if all else fails, be sneaky, he wrote.

"When you suggest a game with someone, make no mention of the number of rounds you are going to play. Play the first match and if you win, take it is as a win. If you lose: Without missing a beat, start playing the 'next' round on the assumption that it was a best two out of three. No doubt you will hear protests from your opponent, but stay firm and remind them that 'no one plays best of one.'"

Clearly, there's much more to this game than even scientists know!

Follow Randee Dawn on Twitter.