Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coin Toss -- A Gamble Or A Sure Thing...?

I learned something very interesting a few weeks ago. In football -- and in other sports, as well -- a coin toss is often used to break a tie, or make a decision about a tie-breaker. But how random is a coin toss? Researchers at the University of British Columbia have published a new study that proves coin tosses are not random at all, and the outcome of a toin coss can actually be manipulated. In their study, 13 ear, nose and throat residents were each asked to toss a coin 300 times and they were told that the two who achieved the highest percentages of "heads" would get free coffee vouchers. The participants were instructed in proper coin tossing technique, and the results were observed and recorded to prevent cheating. The result was heads came up 57 per cent more than tails. The winner of the coin toss achieved a 68 percent average.

"This study shows that when participants are given simple instructions about how to manipulate the toss of a coin and only a few minutes to practise this technique, more than half can significantly manipulate the outcome," the researchers wrote.

That begs the question: Should coin-tosses be used as tie-breakers in sports? What about other forms of gambling -- how random is it? When I watched the football game between Iowa and Ohio, where the coin toss was used to make a tie-breaking decision when the two teams were tied, and Iowa lost the coin toss, I thought, "It's all over for Iowa". Somehow it didn't seem fair to make a decision based on a coin toss. Now it seems even more unfair, knowing a coin toss can be manipulated.

When we were kids, Billy McLeod and I always used to toss a coin for my Crispy Crunch choclate bars, and he always -- always -- won. Hmmmm....

So, the next time someone says, "Let's toss a coin for it..." think twice. They just may have the edge.

8 comments:

Russell said...

Iowa and Ohio State were tied a few weeks ago at the end of regulation play. A coin toss is used in college football and the winner can decide whether to have the ball first or second (and the winner always wants it second).

In college football, each team gets to start at the 25 yard line. When the first team has scored or turned the ball over, the other team gets a turn.

If the game is tied after an overtime, they play another one but the team that had the ball first gets it second in the second overtime so that if the first team scores first then the second team knows ..... never mind! Heh!!!

Nancy said...

I just noticed my blog roll reader has not been updating your blog. I missed the last post...

Alissa said...

And watch out for those trick coins!

Land of shimp said...

Perhaps if the residents had used a Ouija board to determine the winner, it would have mysteriously spelled out, "Free Coffee is mine!" over and over ;-)

Mia said...

Sides should be chosen in a proper coin toss only after the coin has landed. By then it is too late for the tosser[?] to manipulate the result.

Tom Bailey said...

Ok this is a very fun fact. I thought the study was going to go into a fair coin study not a flip skill thank you very much for sharing.

Kindest regards,
Tom Bailey

Katy said...

You know, after thinking about it, the whole thing seems a great metaphor for modernity.

Paula Slade said...

I tend to agree that coins can be manipulated, but I also wonder if the weight of the side that is embossed by a "head" might be slightly heavier?