Rock-paper-scissors may appear to be a game of chance, but psychologists have found the people tend to follow specific patterns when playing the ancient game, which is believed to date back to China’s Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).

Researchers from China’s Zhejiang University recruited 360 students, who played 300 rounds of the game, with the scientists analysing their tactics in a paper published on Arxiv.org.

Overall, players did pick each action about a third of the time, but their choices were not random. Instead, people who won the first round were more likely to play the same hand again in the second round, and those who lost tended to switch to the next action in a clockwise direction (rock – paper – scissors – rock…).

Overall, players chose each action about one-third of the time, but their choices weren’t random.

According to the study, people who won the first round were more likely to stick with the same action, and those who lost switched to the next action in a clockwise direction (rock switches to paper, paper switches to scissors, scissors switches to rock).

Continuing from this analysis, the best way to win at rock paper scissors is to do the opposite of how people typically play. So if a person wins the first round then in the second they should change their action to the one that would have beaten their own first hand. While first round losers should swap their action for the one that would have beaten their opponent in the first round.

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