Stephen M. Garcia’s The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective focuses on the social aspects of competition, and more importantly what exactly prompts an individual to compete. Garcia separates his paper into two sections he believes cause competition; situational factors of competition and individual factors of competition. Furthermore, Garcia offers a fresh perspective on the origins of competition that heavily contrasts previous pieces focused on factors of competition in history, the economy and society rather than the individual.
Garcia’s findings can be applied to many psychological phenomena and may explain why psychological issues like eating disorders can be extremely competitive. According to a study on eating disorders “external pressures and competitiveness were both positively correlated with eating disorder characteristics and body dissatisfaction.” While the study links eating disorders with external pressures like those Garcia refers to as situational factors, it may also be explained by individual factors of competition. Garcia states “people compete on dimensions that are relevant or important to the self” meaning individuals compete against each other in fields that they both can relate to. This could explain why those with eating disorders find themselves competing against others who share their disorder rather than healthy individuals.
Something I found interesting was Garcia’s use of the social facilitation phenomenon as evidence of competition. Garcia states that audience plays a role in competition and discusses what is known in psychology as social facilitation. However, he links social facilitation and competition in a way that is questionable. According to social facilitation, individuals that are well trained in a field perform better in front of an audience, while those who are not perform worse. If this altered performance had to do with competition, those who are not well trained would theoretically also improve their performance; but this does not seem to be the case. Therefore, the audience effect might not necessarily be linked to competition, but it is clear more research is necessary to come to a conclusion.
Overall, Garcia’s piece took a unique and interesting take on competition and its causes. While I did not feel like all of my personal experiences (particularly those stating the closer your relationship with someone, the more competitive) correlated with Garcia’s findings, it was a very interesting read that forced me to consider aspects of competition in my personal life and relationships.
Peden, Jamie, et al. “The Effects of External Pressures and Competitiveness on Characteristics of Eating Disorders and Body Dissatisfaction.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 32, no. 4, 2008, pp. 415–429., doi:10.1177/0193723508325638.