Competition within ingroups and the need to belong? An evolutionary and sociocultural phenomenon.

The article “The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective” by Stephen M. Garcia explores the concept of social comparison, which theorizes that we as humans have a tendency to self-evaluate through comparison to others. The factors that influence these social comparisons are split into two categories: individual and social factors. These factors interact with one another and increase levels of competitiveness. The phrase “competitions are ubiquitous,” from the article is in my opinion deeply etched into human society as a whole, extending itself from the idea of survival of the fittest through an evolutionary perspective all the way to the number of likes a person has on their most recent Instagram photo.

Garcia puts forward the perspective that there are a few main variables that lead to comparison and competition between people in society. Individual factors such as the level of importance of the competition to the various parties involved, the degree of similarity in ability and characteristics with the competitor(s), and the degree of physical and emotional closeness with those perceived competitors. Situational factors such as social categorization play a big role along these individual factors since closeness and characteristics are closely tied to the groups that we identify ourselves with. This idea of social categorization links well to one of the main principles of sociocultural psychology, which states that human beings are social animals and we have a basic need to belong.

Consequently, I agree with Garcia’s observations on the idea that humans compare themselves more within their own groups. I believe that people have social identities, and identify themselves with multiple categories. Individual behavior can also largely be determined by the members of the group that one belongs to, such as a family, a nationality, a club, etc. @mmravi presents a view on family and how societal judgment causes a son to do better than his father financially in the blog post “Psychology and Social Competition Perspective”. Living in Asia all my life, I have experienced numerous situations in which having an ingroup identity means maintaining a certain standard (whether it be financially, academically, socially, etc) which is what causes us to compare ourselves with others in the same group. For example, if a person has 3 siblings who all went to Ivy League schools, he will be compared with them by the rest of the family, which may cause feelings of getting left behind or excluded from the group that he identify himself with. Fear of being excluded or rejected from these social groups is why I believe people tend to compare themselves in a harsher way with their closest peers.

Another situational factor presented in Garcia’s research is the number of competitors. Garcia argues with evidence that the fewer the people, the more competitive we become. This idea of local dominance is something that @ryuo100 disagrees with in their blog post “Compete with best friends, and cooperate with strangers?”, based on their experience during IB, in which their classmates willingly cooperated and shared notes and perspectives. @ryuo100 states that “I feel that the point should have been developed further to explain the instances where it might not apply and when it would.” I agree with this statement, as I feel that the idea of local dominance can be highly dependent on the social dynamics of the location. At my IB school in Singapore, we had hundreds of IB students, but the competition was still very intense, and people would be unwilling to share notes with others unless the notes were a group effort.

All in all, Garcia presented a good amount of psychological research that supports various theories within the idea of social comparison. The research in this paper heavily links to Molina’s conclusion in “Cooperation and competition in Anthropology,” in which Molina states that cooperation and competition “does not only occur within groups, but also between groups,” and that they “coexist in every known society.” In my opinion, the one thing that Garcia could have done to improve the cohesiveness of the paper is find more links between individual and situational factors that affect social comparison.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with you on your statements of how conformity within the family is seen as the ideal, and nothing else. Coming from an Asian background myself, I can most certainly feel that standard being pushed on me. When comparing the location of the IB schools, there can certainly be a difference in treatment, as saw in your example from a Singapore IB school and otherwise. I feel that most of it can be attributed to the culture of conformity many cultures in Asia have, that if you were to be a nail sticking out, as Garcia et. al have mentioned, you should be hammered down. In a sense, since everyone is subject to the same amount of work and judgment, rather than relying on peers, you should have the capability to handle it by yourself without needing to rely on others. Should you not be able to, you are labeled as incompetent by your community. Another reason could be because of the high standards schools have in Asia alongside parents’ expectations- unlike schools in the Western world, there are ranking comparing how well you did against the next person. In this case, the school system would be associated with competition, therefore, have more antagonism compared to a school in Canada for instance.


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