Heads or tails aren’t quite fair

By tossing the coin 350,757 times, the researchers confirmed that the heads or tails are not entirely fair. The probability of the coin landing in the same direction as when it was tossed is about 51 percent.

When you flip a coin, the chance of coming up heads is always 50 percent, right? You might think so, but there is increasing evidence that this is not the case in the real world.

In 2007, researchers published a theory about coin tossing. They suggested that when you flip a coin, your thumb makes the coin wobble slightly. This oscillation causes the coin to be longer in the air with one side facing up. This increases the possibility that the coin will also fall with that side up.

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The researchers expected that the coin would land on the same side as it was when it was tossed about 51% of the time.

Marathon toss session

Now he has a statistic František Bartosz from the University of Amsterdam and a team of 49 others have conducted the strongest test of this theory to date. He gathered dozens of friends and colleagues for a marathon coin toss session.

“If you sit in a room with your friends and play music and chat, it’s a very fun activity,” he says. Some people watch movies together and others flip coins for twelve hours. It’s actually more fun than you’d expect.

On December 4, 2022, a team of tossers tossed coins for twelve hours.

The flippers tossed the coin 350,757 times. They used coins from 46 different currencies and denominations. They recorded the direction of the coin before and after the toss. Their findings confirmed the original suspicions: in 50.8% of cases, the coin landed on the same side it started on.

However, there were significant differences between the throws. For one person, the coin landed on the same side it started up to 60.1 percent of the time. For someone else, the coin ended up this way in only 48.7% of the cases.

According to the researchers, each person generates a different amount of rotation outside the normal axis of rotation. More spin creates more volatility and a greater chance of the coin being in the starting position.

Lava lamps

statistical Marton Balazs from the University of Bristol in the UK, who was not involved in the research, describes the actual flip of a coin as a “complex physical and psychological process.” “There is no such thing as a perfect coin,” he says. “There is a certain deviation.” It seems like a relatively small deviation, a few percent at most, but the deviation is there.

According to Balazs, anyone who wants a random result should avoid coins. Even a computer is unable to generate truly random results. Researchers, he says, must turn to naturally chaotic systems such as weather or the movement of bubbles in lava lamps.

Despite their oddities, the coins can still be used in everyday decisions, Bartos says. It is important that both parties do not see the starting position of the coin before tossing it.

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Sophie Baker

"Award-winning music trailblazer. Gamer. Lifelong alcohol enthusiast. Thinker. Passionate analyst."

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