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Get hands-on with Rock-Paper-Scissors science

  • Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors to settle who’s doing the dishes? The science so far suggests you may want to do it with your eyes closed!
  • Here at the Ontario Science Centre, our visitors participated in a quick experiment to see if their results matched the scientists’— why not give it a try yourself? Instructions are below!
  • Then have a look at our results and compare them to yours!

Science in Action

Three hands making different Rock Paper Scissors gestures

Test Rock-Paper-Scissors science. Here are the instructions:

Play Rock-Paper-Scissors under two conditions:

  1. One person blindfolded
  2. Both people blindfolded

Record the number of ties versus decisions (wins or losses) under each condition.
We recommend a minimum of ten games under each condition. Did the numbers differ?

Here comes the science!

The statistics say that Rock-Paper-Scissors matches should produce a tie 33% of the time. But in a regular game of Rock Paper Scissors, where you can see your opponent, the number of ties is significantly higher than 33%. How come? Could the players be subconsciously copying one another’s choices?

Scientists wanted to find out. So they tried combinations in which one or both of the players were blindfolded to see if it made a difference. That’s what we did, too. First, we blindfolded just one player (so that the other player could still see and potentially copy) and recorded the number of wins (decisions) vs. the number of ties (draws). Then we repeated the experiment with both players blindfolded.

Based on a month of gathering experimental data here at the Science Centre, the average number of draws was 36% when both players were blindfolded but rose to 40% when one person was blindfolded. Our findings follow a trend similar to that of the scientific study, supporting their observation that Rock-Paper-Scissors players unconsciously copy one another. How did your results stack up? Try the experiment a few times and see if a pattern in the results starts to emerge.

The results so far:

As of Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 209 visitors contributed to our study.

Two pie charts showing Rock Paper Scissors Science results: First chart - one person blindfolded: Decisions, 58.5 percent, draws 41.5 percent. Second chart - both people blindfolded: Decisions, 61.9 percent, draws 38.1 percent.

From the Headlines

Asian punk girl listening to iPod behind RedShift Report text


To learn more about the University College London study we based our experiment on, listen to the RedShift Report podcast.
Big Bang Theory TV show leaderboard links to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory proposes Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock as a way to avoid ties.

Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory proposes Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock as a way to avoid ties.

Science Daily logo and tagline links to ScienceDaily explanation of how Rock-Paper-Scissors players are natural copycats.

ScienceDaily explains how Rock-Paper-Scissors players are natural copycats.