In this week’s class, we talked about the concept of framing and this intrigues me a lot. As we read from Molina et al (Molina, J. L., et al., 2017), competition evolves with the development of society. Thousand years after, people can argue that competition might imprint our minds due to the brain’s plasticity. But the urge to compete with each other is the innate drive or we are just all framed to feel it in daily life settings? I believe it is the second one.

In this article, the participants of the Red-Blue Exercises are frequently show their defensiveness and reluctance to cooperate. The similar devastating results are shown even the participants are familiar with the prisoner’s dilemma. Just as the author wrote in the introduction part, we encounter unfamiliar or threatening situations, we automatically respond defensively, engaging in competitive rather than cooperative behavior (Wiig Berg, 2010).  However, exceptional result can occur when the participants did the thorough analysis of this game and possible situations. It means that even well-educated and intelligent people like business school students who have knowledge of game theory and know how to compute the total gaining based on rational and irrational decisions, they instinctively shut down the analytical work of brain, and go directly to competition.

How does this happen? Probably due to framing. As Michael mentioned, the word “points” can bring out the competitive spirit even when no competition setting actually exists. The words like “points”, “reward”, “highest”, “best” etc., are associated with competition and these associations get enhanced in numerous ways (i.e. playing sports, school exams, sale). As adults, we respond to these key words instead of the encountered questions themselves. In another word, people compete for no solid reason when those words appear.

Among all three factors discussed in the article, the interesting point I found out is that all participants are peers, they will continue their relationships in real life after this exercise. However, it doesn’t seem like a factor which can regulate the unethical decisions they made, even though the decisions could influence their relationships or just other’s impression on themselves. The game setting becomes subterfuge of lying and deceit, but I don’t think the behaviors would change if it is a real business setting. Two potential explanations came up my mind. First, the idea of being at the top is so perpetuated in business school students’ minds and unethical behaviors can be understood for the reason that competition itself is brutal and cruel. Some misconducted behaviors might be considered forgivable by default! Second, even though they know others might remember this activity and haunt them in real business situation (Wiig Berg, 2010), the drive to win still trumps all at last.

Now, come back to why people are so obsessed with competition even when there is no such thing with the costs of conducting inappropriate behaviours and becoming untrustworthy. Berg mentioned that the teams which got betrayed in the first place are more likely to destroy the achieved cooperative relationship. This emphasizes that we are not destined to compete, but the elements of situation setting (i.e. uneven distribution of results at one time) trigger our dark sides. I totally agree with the take away message extracted from this article by paulkur:  we do not choose to compete, situations do, and it is the decisions we make that determine our chances of getting a positive or a negative end result.

Personally, I love competing and competitions give me motivation, especially in academic setting. If there are unlimited scholarships and graduate school offers, it would take me not a long time to become a lazy and slack student. And I am aware that, when people intentionally or unintentionally indicate some stereotypes, I get alerted immediately even though there is no need for me to struggle to reach the apex of that certain area. We often compete unconsciously which appears like the willing to compete is a hardwired chip in our brain. Instead of regarding us as organic machines which run the well-designed codes stored in our heavy head all the time, I’d rather believe it is the long-time priming makes the short-circuit happens again and again.


Molina, J. L., et al. “Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology.” Anthropology Today, vol. 33, no. 1, 2017, pp. 11-14. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1467-8322.12323

Wiig Berg, Roberta. “Competition and Cooperation: The Wisdom to Know when.” Business Communication Quarterly, vol. 73, no. 2, 2010, pp. 176-189. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1080569910365894

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1 Comment

  1. Hey’
    This is a very detailed argument and I love it. ‘Hardwired chip in our brain’ is the word, or, I would say that competition is an inborn trait that is only recessive. Mistrust among other factors act as a catalyst by bringing about insecurity which in turn leads to development of defensive reaction to the specific threat. I am also concurring with the idea of you being a competitor with the claim that it brings the best out of you. If I can remember well, we had a similar debate in class a couple of weeks ago; on whether student evaluation through grades is motivational or not. There was this response by one of our classmates that grading help us specialize in different fields. To some extent, it almost convinced me but after our last discussion, I actually realized that grades just like rewards, points or profits in business settings promote competitive behavior but most importantly motivates and increase individual level of productivity. I believe that one of the teams in Red-Blue exercise would have eventually earned positive points had we increased the number of maximum points attainable. This makes me want to believe that not only lack of cooperation but also inadequate resources(points), played a role in both teams getting negative results.


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