Would you believe me if I told you there’s a scientific publication concerning the psychology of Rock-Paper-Scissors? No?
Surprise! There actually is one, entitled “Social cycling and conditional responses in the Rock-Paper-Scissors game” by Zhijan Wang et al.
Basically, the authors took 6 groups of 60 students each, and had them play 300 rounds of the game in random pairings. Using complicated mathematical calculations and models, they actually found some interesting patterns. For example, whenever a student won using a particular action, the likelihood that they repeated that same action in the following round greatly increased. Moreover, when a student lost, they were more likely to play the action that would have beaten the one they just lost to. They called these phenomena “win-stay” and “lose-switch”, respectively.
So what can this data tell us about our frequent “best out of 3” tournaments? Personally, I think it explains why so many second rounds end up being ties. My theory aside, the truth is the students in this study had random opponents that changed each round. When playing against the same person, the psychology would probably change. But then again, it might not. After all, I specialize in cells, not people, so I could be wrong. Ultimately, the authors weren’t really interested in helping the average person win at Rock-Paper-Scissors, they were interested in how the mathematical models they created can be used in “game theory”, the science of decision-making.
So can we truly beat the system? Probably not, but it’s always fun to think that we can!