Rock, Paper, Scissors Secret: Wear Blindfolds


The study, Cook said, suggests this learned behavior could be altered if new associations are fostered early. In theory, you could train your child in counter imitative responses, which would make it more likely that one gesture would elicit the opposite gesture in the child in the future. That sort of instinct is useful, for example, to boxers or tennis players who -- like anyone playing Rock, Paper, Scissors -- must offer a counter response in order to win.

It doesn't stop there. Cook believes the possibilities are endless when children are learning.

"Depending on your training," he said, "you can configure responses to give the optimum response in a given situation."

Marisa Carrasco, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at NYU, cautions that people shouldn't necessarily draw dramatic conclusions about instinctive mimicry from the study.

"The deviations in results are fairly small," she said, "and there was nothing really big at stake here so maybe in more real circumstances one would be able to not have such an automatic imitation that was unbeneficial."

She added that while there is good evidence for the existence and impact of mirror neurons in humans, that subject has not been without controversy -- with some studies, such as one done by Alfonso Carramazza, a psychology professor at Harvard University, finding no evidence of mirror neurons at all.

But mirror neurons aside, other than the obvious benefits to survival, an urge to physically mimic can be our friend in other ways too.

According to a 2009 study by Nicolas Gueguen, a professor at the University of South Brittany, small, possibly involuntary gestures of mimicry -- such as crossing your legs when your date crosses theirs -- can be attractive to potential partners and decrease social anxiety.

"Mimicry is one way of expressing empathy because you're showing similarities," Carrasco concurred. "You're perceiving something and you're acting on it, as well."

For some, a predisposition to mimic may also carry more negative consequences than just losing a game.

"You want people to control to some degree to what behaviors we imitate and which ones we don't," Carrasco said, "because if you're in the presence of people whose behavior is negative or unhealthy, then it's not evolutionarily beneficial."

On a small scale however, while we may still be waiting for definitive facts about whether we instinctively copy and why, next time you're playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, you might want to up the stakes -- and bring out the blindfold.



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