Why You Suck At Rock-Paper-Scissors

Why You Suck at Rock-Paper-Scissors

There's no better way to settle an argument than a round of rock-paper-scissors. But while you might think you have fool-proof set of tactics, a new study reveals why many of us suck so hard at the game.

Fundamentally, rock-paper-scissors is a game of pure chance. If you forget about the psychology of the game, the best tactic would be choose to rock, paper, or scissors randomly, but equally often. But psychology does enter into the game, and a new study published in Scientific Reports reveals how human emotion can lead you to defeat.

The researchers, from University of Sussex in the UK and Ryerson University in Canada, had people play a computerised opponent which took a purely random approach to the game. But the team found that players didn't take a random approach at all. They found that human players seems to fall into a trap where they continue to play using the same item if they win, but switch if they draw or lose. It seems that people 'downgrade' their item (i.e. they switch from, say, Rock to Scissors) if they lose but 'upgrade' (from Rock to Paper) if they draw.

As the researchers note, the "data reveal the strategic vulnerability of individuals following the experience of negative rather than positive outcome." In other words, the reason you suck as rock-paper-scissors is because you're human and losses cause you to rethink your strategies — often badly — in the heat of the moment.

It's easy enough to try and implement the results for yourself next time you play, though:

  • If your opponent wins, upgrade from the item they played.

  • If your opponent loses, use the item they played.

  • If you drew, downgrade from the item they played.

Whether it will work or not? That depends on how rational your opponent is. Good luck!

[Scientific Reports via Discover]

Image: Suzys Garden


    I once demolished about 25 people doing the opposite of this.
    It was some "group bonding" thing my high school did, and one game we played was a variation of rock paper scissors, where if you lost you had to follow the person you lost to and cheer them on, the point being eventually there would be two massive teams cheering on two people.
    I didn't really want to play so I jokingly said to a friend that I'd only pick rock, just for the hell of it, and I stuck by that. Fast forward about 24 or so matches, nobody had caught on so it was me and this other guy in the finals, and someone finally caught on and shouted out "hes only using rock, go paper"
    I went rock again, sticking by my rule, he went paper, I lost, going down in a blaze of glory.
    To this day though, anyone who knows that story won't let me use this game as a way to decide anything as there's a high likelihood I'll kick their ass

      That person's claim of you always choosing rock could have easily psyched your opponent out and made him choose rock thinking you'd then choose scissors as a last minute bluff to beat the paper that he should have chosen, meaning that you would have won. Wow, that got confusing quickly...

        My opponent wasn't one of the smartest people at the school haha, but it was very confusing :p

    Weird, I'm not sure if my brain works this way. I often assume people will choose a different 'item' after winning, therefore I stick to my first choice and normally win or draw next game. I'd say 1 in 5 will stick to their winning first choice.
    1st game: I pick rock, opponent pick paper. > Opponent wins, assumes I will change to either paper or scissors, therefore changes their 'item' to scissors or rock.
    2nd game: I pick rock, opponent picks rock. > Draw, opponent is now unsure how I play, assumes I'll choose rock again because I have twice already and chooses paper before the game.
    3rd game: I pick scissors, opponent picks paper. > The tides have turned, bitch.

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