Competition within institutions is ubiquitous. This is often referred to as a “zero-sum game”, where when an individual’s gain is inevitably accompanied by another individual’s loss. When one considers how the incentive structures within institutions initiate immense competition for achieving the highest grades, it is evident that there will always be those who attempt to outperform their peers as an attempt to climb up the ladder of superiority. This therefore establishes a hierarchy, which ultimately leads to a natural increase in an individuals’ concerns regarding their position within such hierarchy. Through a review article published for the Association for Psychological Science, Garcia et al. attempts to provide a more analytical and objective stance as to why competition exists in the first place by proposing a social comparison model of competition to identify the psychological forces that motivate competition. Furthermore, as the article’s aim is to further research regarding the incentives of competition, the authors integrate prior research as a means to strengthen their arguments. Although both Garcia et al. and Hutcheon include prior research as evidence and touch on factors that influence competitive behavior, the aim of their studies is inherently different. This is due to the fact that Hutcheon argues for a side, asserting that cooperation ultimately triumphs competition. However, Garcia et al.’s paper (written for a scientific community that values objective data) is intended to deepen one’s understanding of the topic rather than to persuade one to pick sides.
In regards to the social comparison model, Garcia et al. addresses the main cause of competition as social comparison, and identifies two main factors that provide an explanation as to how social comparisons can drive competition. The two main factors are the individual and situational factors. While individual factors focus on variable individual differences pertaining to social comparison, situational factors concern the individual’s perception of the surrounding social environment, and consider factors that are applicable to individuals who are similar. Individual factors include (1) the relevance of the individual’s performance in a certain field, (2), the individual’s similarity to the targeted competitor, and (3) the degree to which the individual is closely acquainted with the target. Situational factors include (1) the individual’s proximity to a standard, (2) the number of competitors, and (3) social category fault lines. The study therefore attempts to connect the variables stemming from these two factors, then suggests that these variables are the incentives that cause social comparison, thus competition. @marierohmova mentions the importance of a situational variable concerning an individual’s proximity to the standard and explains how it can potentially affect one’s mindset in approaching competition. Proximity to the standard refers to comparison concerns regarding a meaningful qualitative threshold in relation to the standard of one’s relative standing within similar individuals. This means that top students may be more motivated to achieve top grades than weaker students; thus top students may outperform their peers. Furthermore, a top student’s motivator for maintaining top grades is often due to a need to maintain their status on the top rung of the academic ladder, thus inducing social comparisons between individuals and peers of a similar level.
While it is evident that competition due to social comparison is apparent in institutions across the world, cultural differences may spark disparities between an individual’s attitude towards competition due to cultural values. I believe that @marierohmova’s points regarding institutions pertain more to a western approach of learning, as she discusses about competition within UBC. She mentions that competitive programs such as psychology constantly pit students against each other, as they attempt to outperform one another for the purpose of maintaining superiority over their peers. The western approach of learning encourages more promotion-focused mentalities, which focus on pursuing the top spots. Thus, individuals who are part of competitive institutions such as UBC may be subject to a more promotion-focused way of thinking, meaning that they may be motivated near the top of the hierarchy. This therefore causes them to be more driven to get ahead of the competition. On the other hand, I believe that individuals from Asian countries such as Japan tend to exhibit prevention-focused mentalities, meaning that they are more concerned with not falling behind than getting ahead of the competition. This may be because the Japanese society values image, competence and conformity, suggesting that individuals may be afraid of falling behind due to the immense amount of stigma that they receive for being shameful and incompetent in relation to the standard. Their desire to not drop below the standards may overpower their desire to compete for the top. This therefore indicates that the Japanese may be more motivated to compete when they are ranked in the bottom, unlike their American counterparts. The contrast between Western and Asian attitudes towards competition thus elucidates how the situational factor of proximity to a standard is evident across the globe; however, it manifests itself in dichotomous ways due to different values within cultures.
Garcia et al.’s study sheds light on the fundamental causes of social comparison and competition by examining the individual and situational factors that induce comparison and competition. Moreover, it is apparent that many individual and situational factors exist in institutions worldwide; however, using the data from the study, one can speculate that perhaps the manifestations of such factors may differ due to variety in cultural values. The motivators for individuals of different countries may be quite different, as different cultures foster different values that can ultimately shape an individual’s mindset. Therefore, although social comparison and competition are ubiquitous within institutions worldwide, perhaps the motivators for competition are partly culture-dependent.
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.