Social Comparison: The Psychology of Competition

“The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective” by Garcia et. al. is an intricate analysis of the factors that induce social comparison. Individual factors include a comparison of individual differences, similarities, closeness to the target, and relevance of performance which can vary from person to person. Situational factors are described as incentive structures, number of competitors, proximity to a standard, social category fault lines, uncertainty, and audience. These social comparison concerns are shown to help pave new paths and directions for future psychological studies, as well as relating disciplines.

This effort to open horizons for further research is similar to Werron’s development of the sociological and empirical research on competition, and his argument for the need to study modern competition in societal fields. Werron also emphasizes that competition is a taken-for-granted part of modern world view and we often forget that our motives are caused by competition. This ties well with Garcia et. al.’s idea of self comparison as it brought my attention to the reasons we compare ourselves to others in ways I had never consciously realized myself.

The “N effect” is one of the situational factors I found most interesting and perhaps feel the most connected to. The inverse relationship shown when the number of competitors decrease and the intensity of competitive behaviour increases is prevalent within my day to day experience within my sport. For example, when running a beep test to reach our V02 max, I feel more motivated to continue running when majority of people have dropped out before me. By comparing your success to those who drop out in the beep test, I feel a sense of relief. Though, while running I find the opposite effect. The situational factor of number of competitors drives an individual factor of comparing yourself with the remaining few who share a similar ranking of cardiovascular ability.

I agree with @paulkur on the opinion that “[t]his article is also left open ended giving the reader a chance to have their own take on the idea of competition”, because even though we are made aware of these factors for self-comparison, Garcia et. al. gives no opinion of whether it is right or wrong.


  1. Hey! Nice Response! I agree that the paper gives you the opportunity to paint your own picture of competition. Do you personally think that social comparison (personal level in terms of skills and ability) is beneficial or rather detrimental to society? In one way social comparison is important as it can motivate one to do better (much like competiton) on the other hand it can make you feel badly about yourself realizing that others are better or arrogant if you yourself are “better” – creating a disharmonic environment. What do you think?



  2. Hey @benirohr! That’s the question I ask myself quite often. I can think of so many reasons as to how competition has made me the person I am today from both the pros and cons that it comes with. I believe competition is the very thing that causes havoc in society, yet those issues bring forth choices. These choices are the things that teach us and better us. A classic example of competition, like you said, is to motivate people to create, improve, and think outside the box (for the better, and sometimes the worse). Those situations where competition leads people to make what many would consider a “poor” decision are learning experiences for everyone. As much as it may be a detriment to society, it is also necessary. Without bad, there is no good, without light, there is no dark, and so on. I personally think social comparison is more complicated than competition in general because it is one comparing their own personal self to another. I am, as I assume everyone is, guilty of social comparison. For years I looked up to an athlete role model as inspiration. It came a day where I had finally gotten the opportunity to train with and against my role model at the highest level. I went from looking up to her to striving to be better than her, when I really should’ve only been striving to be better than myself. That is when my mother told me something I’ll never forget. “To want to be better than is the practice of arrogance. To want to be just as good as is the practice of confidence. Be confident.” I think this is the most important aspect of experiencing social comparison in a positive light. I had to repeat it a few times in my head to really understand what she was saying. In conclusion, I do believe social comparison is a good thing if one can understand the difference between gaining confidence from others rather than arrogance.


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