The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective

Garcia, Tor and Schiff (2013) conduct a literature review on the role of social comparison in competition. The authors point out that past research of competition heavily focused on fields like sociology, political science, or business. Therefore, authors in the current study hopes to extend previous knowledge of competition by examining evidence from the psychological perspective, more specifically, from a social comparison point of view.

Garcia et al. propose a social comparison model of competition which shows that individual and situational factors predict the degree of comparison concerns; as a result, the comparison concern poses as a meditative factor to competitive behavior. The authors in the current study have a nice touch on the psychological factors which distinguishes the social comparison theory from other perspectives. Previous studies largely focus on situational factors. For example, Hutcheon (2003) identified the incentive structure, one of the situational factors in the social comparison model, as the engine of the competitive and adversarial culture fostered in the academic settings. As Hutcheon put it, the corporate capitalist model of competition rewards individual accomplishment which builds on minimizing others’ benefits. In Bateson’s article, the author explored how the macrosystem (e.g. the individualistic society and cultural belief) shapes one’s competitive behavior (2016). Molina et al. (2017) also emphasized the influence of the familial environment (eg. kin selection) and surrounding environments (eg. human community) on cooperation and competition.

By comparison, Garcia et al.’s social comparison model stresses that the incentive structure which works alongside with other situational variables could interplay with some personal factors, and therefore indirectly promotes one’s desire to optimize their performance and increase or decrease the differences between themselves and their competitors. In addition, authors addressed the individual differences under the same environmental influence. For example, people compete based on the relevance of a task to themselves. I can imagine if a western parent views attachment as the top priority to his or her child’s development, this parent may not be keen on the child’s independence training although he or she is living in an extremely individualistic society.  More interestingly, Garcia et al. provides a new perspective on the relational variables. Molina et al.’s kin selection suggests that people become more altruistic if the donor and the recipient of a favour are closely related. However, the social comparison model indicates that people are more reluctant to provide helps to their friends than to strangers during competitive missions which are relevant to themselves.

Moreover, I personally appreciate the way how Garcia et al. deliver their messages. They did not pick a side between competition and corporation. Instead, they simply present the possible explanations of competitive behaviors from the psychological perspective and leave the audience to decide how they are going to utilize their information. Many researchers like Molina et al. have realized that cooperation and competition coexist in almost every societies. Also, as our classmate vinitinandwani3427 said in his/her reading response, “in order to survive, we do need to cooperate and work together, or there will never be peace. But competition is what drives us”.  In my opinion, social comparison drives us neither in a positive nor negative direction, but rather upward or downward depends on how we perceive the task, the target or the situation.

Work Cited

Bateson, Mary Catherine. “The Myths of Independence and Competition.” Systems Research and Behavioral Science, vol. 33, no. 5, 2016, pp. 674–677., doi:10.1002/sres.2424.

Garcia, Stephen M., et al. “The Psychology of Competition.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 8, no. 6, 2013, pp. 634–650., doi:10.1177/1745691613504114.

Hutcheon, L. “RHETORIC AND COMPETITION: Academic Agonistics.” Common Knowledge, vol. 9, no. 1, 2003, pp. 42–49., doi:10.1215/0961754x-9-1-42.

Molina, J.l., et al. “Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology.” Anthropology Today, vol. 33, no. 1, 2017, pp. 11–14., doi:10.1111/1467-8322.12323.

Link to vinitinandwani3427 ‘s reading response:


  1. I completely agree with you. I also really appreciated that he was able to dive into the intricacies and social functions of competition without passing judgement on its nature, though my own personal reading of the way the author speaks of competition seems fairly positive.

    Different from Molina or from Werron, when they describe how competition is conceptualized as an individual and as an individual as a part of a larger system, I was able to see myself in a lot of the descriptions they gave, especially since they accompanied their explanations with general examples that showed that portion of their theory in play. With Werron and Molina, applying competition from their perspective is more abstract and general, and of course not all competition is the same and it changes depending on where you, who you are, and who you are around at the time.

    Also different from any other reading, they laid the groundwork for how their framework can apply to multiple fields, from education to competition in the workplace, which I personally found the most fascinating.

    When Garcia talked about how competition changed in education depending on the number of students, particularly in testing, I think back to high school when I was taking the SAT/ACT for college. The first time I took the test, I was in a giant room with 400 other students and I felt almost no pressure to compete or really do well. I consequently didn’t do as well as I expected. The second time around, I was in a room with 10 peers, some of whom I competed with in the classroom, and that competitive pressure made me focus and perform at a higher level, and I credit that environment with my higher score.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really good post Fiona! I also mentioned in my blog post how the authors chose to take a neutral stance on the nature of competition itself. While I think this was a smart choice considering the framework they were developing was not being applied to a specific situation, I differ with your opinion in that I think social comparison has the potential to be very harmful in specific environments. I thought it was really interesting how you applied Molina et al.’s mention of kin selection to this framework. In addition to what you said, I think that parents competing with other parents in terms of their children’s achievements is something that is happening more and more often, even in a society as individualistic as our own. Maybe this is a different kind of dimension relevance than you mentioned in your post?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey,
    I consider this a good piece of writing because you bring the most of out readings we have had so far and how they relate. I also do agree with your conclusion that cooperation is essential for survival while on other hand we need to compete with one another in order to increase our efficiencies.Evidently I think Bateson and Hutcheon refute the idea of competition and instead champion cooperation, However, Werron’s argument on competition has better explanations especially with the use supplier-consumer economic model and how it can better the societal level of productivity if it remain free and fair.
    I think Garcia also show some acknowledgement of competition but does not give his personal opinion on whether it is detrimental or beneficial to various social settings, instead he explains how individual and social factors affect the degree how we perceive the term competition. I think competition brings the best out on an individual.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your comment, Kate. Sorry for this late reply.

    I maintain a neutral position in social comparison. I would like to use an analogy to present my view: social comparison is like a unstable chemical which is sensitive to its environment/condition. In some cases, it elicits positive effect whereas in some it causes harm. The example you used above in which parents compete with other parents is very good example of its harmful effect.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s