Stephen M Garcia - Competitive Behavior

Topics: Sociology, Social comparison theory, Psychology Pages: 29 (9218 words) Published: February 9, 2013
Running head: Competitive Behavior

Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective

Stephen M. Garcia1, Avishalom Tor2, and Tyrone M. Schiff1


University of Michigan University of Notre Dame




This paper proposes a new framework that distinguishes between individual and situational factors in the social comparison process that produces competitive behavior. The familiar individual factors, which naturally vary among similarly situated people, include the relevance of the performance dimension, the commensurability of rivals, and their relationship closeness to the individual. Social comparison researchers have long established that as relevance, commensurability, and closeness increase, so do social comparison concerns and competitive behavior. The more recently identified situational factors, on the other hand, are features of the social environment that affect similarly situated individuals, including proximity to a standard, social category lines, and the number of competitors. When rivals are proximate to a standard (e.g., the #1 ranking), members of different versus the same social category group, or among a few versus many competitors, social comparison concerns and competitive behavior intensify. The situational account not only uncovers an important set of variables that shape social comparison, but also offers new insights regarding the role of social comparison-based competition in organizations and other policy-relevant settings and charts fruitful directions for future social comparison research.

  Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective

People commonly seek to achieve a superior position vis-à-vis others in contexts ranging from daily social situations to organizational settings and market transactions (De Botton, 2004; Festinger, 1954; Frank, 1985; Podolny, 2005; Porter, 1979). The struggle for competitive advantage is pervasive, permeating not only explicitly competitive settings but also common social interactions, such as among friends at a social gathering, students in the classroom, or employees at work. Yet while past psychological research valued the study of competition (Deutsch, 1949; Gardner, 1939; Hastorf & Cantril, 1954; Triplett, 1898; Vaughn & Diserens, 1938; Whittemore, 1924, 1925), social psychological scholarship paid relatively little attention to this important social dynamic in recent decades. Instead, the study of competition has been relinquished to other disciplines – most notably economics and business, but also sociology and political science (e.g., Arrow & Hahn, 1971; Axelrod, 1984, 1997; Podolny, 2005; Porter, 1979; Spence, 1973). This state of affairs is perplexing, though not completely surprising, since Festinger’s (1954) original linking of the social comparison process to competitive behavior admittedly was followed by an extensive literature that primarily studied the self-evaluation process – that is, how people evaluate their present state relative to others (e.g., Tesser, 1988; Beach & Tesser, 2000) – rather than competition per se. This paper therefore aims to synthesize both early and more recent developments in social comparison theory into a coherent analytical account of the psychology of competitive behavior. In doing so, we draw not only on research that directly examined competition, but also on numerous studies in social comparison and related fields that have significant implications for the analysis of competitive behavior. Moreover, although our framework emphasizes the role of

  social comparison in facilitating competitive behavior, we believe that competition – like other complex behavioral phenomena – is multiply determined. This review thus introduces an account that highlights the role of situational versus individual-based variables in the social comparison process, which then offers a framework for...
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