The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective

This post explores connections between a literature research article by Garcia et al. named, “The Psychology of Competition.” Perspectives on Psychological Science and personal experiences in the context of my WRDS 150 course.

Garcia et al. published an article on behalf of the Association for Psychological Science outlining a model of competition through the lens of social comparison factors. Rather than a normative exploration of the evils of competition, the authors focus on different individual and situational elements within our institutions and worldviews that reinforce social comparison, and by extension, competition. The highly specific and detailed categorizations of individual and situational factors are admirable and hint at the expertise of the researchers. Individual factors are separated into personal and relational factors: the personal factors being (1) individual differences and (2) dimension relevance, and the relational factors being (3) similarity, (4) relationship to target, (5) and personal history. Subsequently, the situational factors are: (a) incentive structures, (b) the N-effect, or the number of competitors (c) proximity to a standard threshold (d) social category fault lines and (e) prospective outlook, separated into audience and uncertainty.

The writing maintains relevance throughout the paper by consistently referencing recognized research in the form of citations, a recognized form of interaction and acknowledgement in the discourse community. Analytical discoveries, such as the realization of the N-effect (as the number of people in competition decreases, competition increases and vice versa) situate the findings as relevant in the research community. They can further contribute to dialogue and investigations in specified fields, such as organized psychology and business strategy. Prevailing examples of previous psychological research and discussing relatable circumstances, such as the feeling to compete in the dimension of academic performance, give evidence to their claims in an empirical and relatable manner.

One key element of this article is that it focuses on the measurement of competition as a means to further understand our Western culture and world. This contrasts greatly to the perspectives of Bateson and Hutcheon, who take argumentative standpoints depicting the evils of individualism and competition over cooperation. salimsalimoff7648 puts it well in another post saying: “Like Bateson, Hutcheon appears to take a side in the competition debate and encourages a departure from competition to cooperation.”

Bateson and Garcia et al. have similar processes in giving evidence for their claims by providing a variety of connections in their writing. All of the readings give examples as evidence, but the first reading and the psychology reading take a multidisciplinary approach, making them relatable to a larger audience (rather than only a academic discourse community like Hutcheon). While these writings are immensely different, the underlying assumption in all of these papers is that competition is a large part of our institutional structures and mindsets. They all recognize that whether competition is being praised, analyzed or criticized, it is valuable to investigate the extent to which competition is embedded in today’s modern society.

As a whole, the complexities of the researchers’ argument remind me of the introductory sessions of the course, where we learned that competition is not only found in sports, but also in so many parts of life- from institutional structures to subtle interactions with the environment and others. Competition, I find, is relatable to everyone. The social comparisons I engage in on social media platforms, comparing my looks to other friends (individual relational similarity factor), the detachment and lack of motivation in large class lectures as opposed to small discussions (the situational N-effect), and my increased competitiveness when applying to jobs (situational uncertainty factor)-these are all examples of how I am surrounded in competition in everyday life. I invite you to think about how your daily routines and interactions can also be considered competition, and what Garcia et al. would classify it in their social comparison model.


Bateson, Mary Catherine. (2016). The myths of independence and competition. Systems Research & Behavioral Science, 33, 674-677.

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


  1. Hey, I really enjoyed your post!

    I especially enjoyed the end bit where you gave examples from your own life to illustrate the different factors contributing to competition being ubiquitous. I also found it interesting to compare this article to what Bateson wrote about competition. However, I didn’t really compare the structures of the papers as you did. I thought it was interesting that both Bateson and Garcia et. al. try to provide explanations for competitive behaviour. Bateson said that the way western society values individualism is the cause of competition. Garcia et. al. provide us with a bunch of individual and relational factors that influence competitive behavior. I was wondering if you also made this connection and what you thought of it? Do you think the evidence provide in this paper supports Batesons argument?


  2. I also really enjoyed the post, especially how you emphasized the connection between the reading and its present day applications.
    I found it interesting how you spoke about the focuses of each paper depending on the audience, and the kinds of evidences presented. From our in class presentation the week before about anthropology as well as on biases, do you think that these papers did a good job at remaining as neutral as possible, and how? Or perhaps did it use the audience’s bias’s to better form and support its own argument..


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