Competition’s Effects on Health

In previous works we have discussed competition in a variety of settings such as in academia, business and psychology to name a few. Each time, the negative consequences of competition were discussed, with a focus on harm in regards to mental processes or psychological effects (ex. how competition influences stereotype effect which in turn influences performance). However, there has not been much of a discussion yet regarding the physiological effects competition may have on an individual. Buckert et al’s experiment examines the effect that competition has on eliciting physiological stress reactions, and although we have previously seen academic papers describing experiments, this paper features different literary techniques.

Buckert’s paper presents the idea that competition can elicit a stress response which in turns evokes physiological reactions. Previously, we have examined the strengths and limitations of competition but the psychological and physiological state have not been touched on as much. While it was briefly covered in the presentation on how competitive school environments affect the psychology of students, it was never explored in other situations or as in depth. Thus, this paper presents a finding that is unique to our class.

Compared to previous works, Buckert et al’s paper held the most structural resemblance to the paper by VanLook et al. Both are experimental papers that’s goal was to present the findings of their experiment. It also happened that they were both laboratory experiments and thus had a similar rundown of their experimental procedure, and how the data was analysed. Buckert’s paper focused on one main experiment and focused on more elements within the one experiment. As a result there was more use of subheadings to help direct the readers’ attention to the various factors being tested and that were found. The definition of competition used was rather similar to previous works. Buckert made the competitive round in her experiment to be one where the “winner takes all”, a zero sum game.

Buckert et al’s findings did not necessarily imply that the effects of competition could be harmful, but rather that competition does elicit some type of physiological response. However, in research conducted by Sapolsky and the follow-up study conducted by Marmot (Whitehall study) it has been shown that an individual’s role in a hierarchy, is related to their level of stress and thus affects their physiology. While competition does not necessarily relate to an individual’s hierarchical standing, competition does elicit stress response as seen in Buckert et al’s study. In the research done by Sapolsky, he researched the effect of hierarchy in baboons measured stress levels through the examination of cortisol levels (similar to the measures performed in this experiment). He found that baboons who were of a lower social ranking, had greater levels of stress and thus more severe physiological effects. These findings were also conducted on humans as seen in the longitudinal Whitehall study conducted by Marmot, which also found similar results. Lower social ranking results in higher levels of stress and a decreased physiological state which was reflected in a greater risk for heart disease among other health risk behaviours. While the findings by Buckert did not show how competition affected the participants in a longitudinal manner, it did show that competition evoked physiological reactions that were associated with stress. It would be interesting to see more research related to the long term effects of highly competitive environments on individuals both psychological and physiological.

Felicity discussed how physical changes may be linked to willingness to participate in competition in addition to how there may be more factors that need to be considered when discussing competition. I find that interesting because I personally have not examined competition from this angle before. The idea that social norms may affect competitive behaviour was previously examined in the paper by VanLook in which negative stereotype effect was discussed. I could see how the societal norms of masculine and feminine traits may affect competitive behaviour and in turn influence the willingness to compete. Which also relates back to if physiology is affected by an individual’s perception of competition.

Elise goes on to extend the idea of an active and passive mindset examining the role of self esteem in failure. Again, the concept of a societal norm or what is approved and expected of individuals comes up. This points to the idea that competition is very much a socially defined concept. Furthermore, she states that “..individuals with low self-esteem or anxiety are more hesitant to compete: they feel closer to failure than they do to success. ” This could be tied into the research conducted by Marmot, individuals with a lower standing already have high stress levels and the psychological effects, thus they feel less inclined to participate in competitive situations, which would augment their stress levels.

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