Taking a break this week from the ins and outs of the best scissors and screw extraction pliers, we’re going to have a hopefully fun and informative look at the psychology of the famous Rock Paper Scissors game – and how to win!
Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) dates to the ancient Chinese, and in Japan, it is known as sansukumi ken, which means hand, three-way, deadlock. In the past, as well as paper, scissors, and rock, the hands also represented frogs, hunters, slugs, and poisonous centipedes. It only became popular in the west as Rock Paper Scissors in the last century.
RPS is a go-to game and simple way to decide between options. Who goes first? Who does the washing up? Who decides which movie to watch? RPS is a simple and fair way to decide.
But is it?
RPS is what is known as a zero-sum game. This essentially means that one player’s loss is another’s gain. A fist represents rock; a flat palm represents paper; a fist with index and middle finger making a “V” represents scissors.
An unlimited number of players may begin. Possible outcomes include:
- Rock crushes scissors
- Paper wraps rock
- Scissors cut paper
It is not simply a game of chance if played strategically. With careful mindfulness, observation, manipulation, strategy, emotional intelligence and skill, one can beat the game and exploit one’s opponents. This is because behavior when playing the game is not usually random, though it seems it is.
When truly played randomly, RPS delivers an equal likelihood of tying, losing, or winning. Yet a research study conducted at Zhejiang University in China on RPS (yes, really) demonstrated that it is more a game of psychology than chance. When one can recognize and predict the predictable patterns of an opponent, one can exploit these patterns to win.
Superficially, players tend to stay with an option for play following a win and change their option for play if they lose. Psychologically, we repeat what leads to success. Hence, a winning hand with paper will see most players replay the paper hand, as an example. A losing hand will usually see the player move onto the next hand in the sequence.
How to Win at RPS?
1/ If you lose a hand, move ahead two actions in the RPS sequence e.g. if you lose playing rock, play scissors next.
2/ If you win a hand, go on to the next action in the sequence e.g if you win playing rock, play paper next.
3/ Understand these points:
- Players subconsciously think of rock as an aggressive play and will revert to rock if they are losing.
- Paper is a subtle move that is passive but can be used strategically to symbolize superiority.
- Scissors represent aggression that is controlled and is often used by one who is confident of winning the hand.
- Men will often open with rock, as will new players.
- If you are playing a rookie, lead with paper.
- If you are playing an experienced opponent, lead with scissors.
- Try to be unpredictable
Did you Know? There is actually a World Rock Paper Scissors Society!