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How to Win at Rock-Paper-Scissors

Cook asked 45 people to face off against each other in several rounds of rock-paper-scissors, in exchange for real money. In every game, either one or both players were blindfolded.

Cook found that the players drew with each other more often when one of them could see (36.3% of the matches) than when both were blindfolded (33.3% of them). The latter figure was exactly the proportion of draws you’d expect if the players were choosing randomly; the former was significantly higher than chance.

Cook devised this study because he was interested in the idea that we all automatically and unconsciously imitate one another. There’s plenty of evidence that we do indeed copy one another, from obvious gestures like touching our face to subtle movements like tensing our muscles. But it’s not clear whether these actions are truly involuntary in the way that the knee-jerk reflex is. To find out, Cook wanted to see if people can stop themselves from performing these acts of mimicry.

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