Several years ago, I watched a TED talk “How to make stress your friend” on internet, Kelly McGonigal revealed the enemy of health is the belief that stress is bad for health instead of stress itself just like Buckert et al. studied on the physiological changes induced by well-established economic laboratory competition paradigm, but in a more general and long-term way instead of constrained in laboratory setting in short period. They share the very same idea that how you perceive and appraise the situation associated with the consequences they would cause. This makes me think about the overall negative impression of competition raised from the society. Is competition really a bad thing? At least, I don’t think it is.
The famous Yerkes-Dodson law psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson developed in 1908 draws a relationship between performance and arousal. As people’s physiological and mental arousal increase the performance get better, but when arousal level surpasses certain point, the performance would get worse. It is quite obvious that when people merely aroused, they put little effort and attention to the tasks, no outstanding performance should be expected in this status. On the other hand, when people are over aroused, they would get anxious about the results so much that rational thinking might not happen under such pressure. Therefore, if we perceive the competition in a positive way, embrace it and adjust our response to it, competition can bring out the better and better version of us mentally and physically.
Our body (physiological changes) can adjust our emotion, meanwhile, how the mind works can change the physiological states too. Plenty of literature study on the relationship between C&T levels and competition (e.g. Casto& Edwards 2016). In general, it seems naturally that men are inclined to compete more than women and men are more likely to get aggressive and the aggression affects their thinking during competition. From biological perspective, these can be attributed to the different T&C levels between them. Buckert et al. found the significant interaction of choice group and testosterone(T) & cortisol(C) level. This means people’s perception and willing to compete can lead to different body response under competitive situation.
In this week’s wonderful group presentation, the presented article (Adriaan Kalwij 2018) found out that bronze and gold U.S. Olympic medalists appraise their medals as a win, silver medalists appraise them as a loss (Medvec et al., 1995) and, through the associated psychological stress (Lazarus, 1993), have their health compromised and life expectancy reduced. This finding also supports the idea that the perception and evaluation of competition has more influence on people’s health instead of competition itself.
The perpetuated problem exists for a long time is that people are put into competition against their own will just as @dcorrech mentioned. We are forced to compete in so many situations. For example, young adults who might only want to pursue music dreams still need to engage in the fierce competition for scholarship in order to make sure a reliable job to make a living. This is what the reality compels them to do instead of what they want to do. No wonder, so many people grow aversion from competing with each other and try hard to avoid competitive situations as much as possible.
Indeed, competition can be a good thing to our general health and performance. However, it is undeniable that we don’t really have the agency to choose to involve in competition for most of the time.