The Psychology of Competition: Individual vs. Situational Factors

Taking the intuitive idea that social comparison leads to increased feelings of competition, Garcia et al. (2013) aim to build a theoretical framework for understanding the situational and dispositional factors that lead to this kind of comparison in the first place. The authors, using a review paper approach to build on previously conducted research, offer multiple (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives in developing this important understanding. While considering the situational and individual factors as generally being independent from one another, they also propose the inherent interconnectedness between these two influences. These factors, such as dimension relevance, similarity to target, and number of competitors, to name a few, all have direct relevance and application to several other areas of study both within and beyond the field of psychology. 

While this paper certainly holds relevance to most of the other articles we have discussed in class, what I found most interesting was to apply the ideas presented by Garcia et al. to the arguments made by Hutcheon (2002). Hutcheon, arguing that the world of academia has evolved into an intellectual battleground for scholars,would likely be interested by the several factors of social comparison proposed by Garcia et al. Most directly, Hutcheon defines the term agon as a word that originally meant assembly, but was later used to describe verbal battles in Greek drama. This exactly parallels Garcia et al.’s point about social comparison leading to competition. Dimension relevance, one of the factors used to describe how important the area of competition is to the self, is particularly important in the argument Hutcheon makes, wherein scholars compete with other scholars in part because their areas of study are so engrained into their identities. Additionally, the factor of proximity to a high standard can be applied to Hutcheon’s argument, as most academics are motivated to outperform and attack their peers in order to achieve the highest standard of success in their field. 

The cut-throat nature of academia is certainly something that I personally can relate to, where I feel I am constantly comparing my performance to those around me. I think Diogenes made a really good point by applying Garcia et al.’s model to the culture of UBC specifically, using the school’s motto “Tuum Est”to demonstrate how implicitly, students are told to define themselves as UBC students, thereby increasing dimension relevance of academic performance that leads to more competition between peers. What I think is really interesting, and something that was not fully addressed in this paper, is both the ramifications of competition and how institutions such as UBC can be part of creating the environment conducive to creating it in the first place. Understanding how social comparison factors increase competition is an important first step, but applying this model to situations where competition can become harmful (or “wolfish”) for those competing is what will make Garcia et al.’s framework more useful. I appreciate the authors taking a relatively neutral stance on competition, but I believe that in order to apply this model, we must be able to understand when and in what situations competition is harmless or harmful. 

Work Cited

Hutcheon, L. (2002). Rhetoric and competition: Academic agnostics. Common Knowledge, 9:1, 42-49.

Garcia, S., Tor, A., & Schiff, T.M. (2013). The psychology of competition: A social comparison perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(6), 634-650. DOI 10.1177/1745691613504114. 



  1. Hi katechecknita4023,
    I really liked the last part of this response because of the way you related it back to yourself or the audience in general. I agree that in academia there is always the idea of comparison between individuals in society and it is something that has even become innate in institutions that create theses environments to begin with. This was a very well thought out response to Garcia’s use of competition in social comparisons. I also enjoyed the way you interpreted her argument into yours when you state that in order to understand the model “we must be able to understand when and in what situations competition is harmless or harmful,” I even wonder if this may even be a good research topic to aim for?


  2. Hi Shaina,
    Thanks for your comment! The topic of academic competition is definitely relevant as students, and I agree for you it would make an interesting research topic. Something interesting to consider, thanks for the idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with what you said Garcia et al and Hutcheon have similar views, but I still think that Garcia et al analyze competition from an objective perspective, and they do not really judge whether competition is good or bad. However, Hutcheon tries to make the audience feel that competition is harmful to the academic.


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