Neuroscientists are Dumb

Unique switch strategies related to each of these trial n outcomes were also identified: after losing participants were more likely to ‘downgrade’ their item (e.g., Rock followed by Scissors) but after drawing participants were more likely to ‘upgrade’ their item (e.g., Rock followed by Paper). Further repetition analysis revealed that participants were more likely to continue their specific cyclic item change strategy into trial n + 2. The data reveal the strategic vulnerability of individuals following the experience of negative rather than positive outcome, the tensions between behavioural and cognitive influences on decision making, and underline the dangers of increased behavioural predictability in other recursive, non-cooperative environments such as economics and politics.

This is from the abstract of Negative outcomes evoke cyclic irrational decisions in Rock, Paper, Scissors by Dyson et al.  And I haven’t read the paper and maybe the abstract is misleading.  But it sounds like they’re trying to make the claim that people who lose in RPS get depressed and choose a “worse” option next time.

But obviously that’s not what happened at all.  Take their two examples:  In the first, I threw Rock and LOST.  And then I threw Scissors.  The weird omission here is what my opponent threw.  Since I threw Rock and lost, my opponent threw Paper.  My next throw is Scissors because Scissors beats what my opponent just threw.

Similarly, if I threw Rock and tied, then my opponent threw Rock as well, and I then throw Paper because Paper beats what my opponent just threw.

This is a real pattern, and one I’ve exploited to a winning record at RPS.  People have little time to think, and they tend to just throw the symbol which would have won the last round.  But it’s not a pattern that has anything to do with the experience of negative rather than positive outcome.  It’s just thinking one step beyond your opponent’s last demonstrated thought.

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