Is Competition stressful?

This week we are talking about competition in the economy.  The journal article : “How stressful are economic competitions in the lab? An investigation with physiological measure.”, is a scientific research and experimentation paper written by Buckert et. al, which studied the effects of a “well-established economic tournament game” on the physiological stress response of participants. Overall, the study was conducted to find out wether competition in the economic-sector elicits a great stress response and therefore might be unhealthy and detrimental or wether competition doesn’t elicit a strong physical stress response. 

Unlike to what we have seen before, own experimentation was conducted in this study as well as research of previous peer-reviewed studies. This causes the discourse community to be rather in the scientific field of study- addressing specifically psychologists, and economic scientists.  The experimentation conducted, was a very interesting and useful approach of trying to objectively find answers to the debate of wether competition is useful or detrimental. Competition seems to be something very subjective- as we have seen already, it can be defined in dozens of different ways. Every human most likely experiences competition differently and might not even perceive situations as competitive when others do. That is because our brain structure is so complex and so unique that is practically impossible to study it objectively. (Probably the greatest problem in the field of psychology) Our conscious mind is not always reliable and therefore trying to see how our body – maybe partly unconsciously responds to different environments can be extremely useful- as it might be one of the only ways to collect empirical data concerning competition.  The problem I found however, was that this experiment was conducted in a laboratory which might have had a great effect on the bodies physiological stress response to competition.  A physiological stress response is elicited by the brain – the state of mind can heavily influence the bodies response as mind and body are fundamentally interconnected. The results showed that the stress response was lower when competition was perceived as a challenge rather than a threat. The problem is, again, that wether or not competition was perceived as a challenge or a threat is very subjective and might depend on several factors. We don’t know wether the bodies physiological response caused the mind to perceive the competition as a challenge or wether there wasn’t a great physiological stress response because the competition was perceived as a challenge in the first place.  Maybe the state of mind of that particular participant was very calm as he knew he was in a laboratory- or maybe another participant had slept poorly the night before the experiment and his mind perceived this particular environment as a threat. The third-variable problem might be a key issue in this research. 

I found comparison to the Bateson article quite interesting. She said that Bateson would most likely perceive “competition as threat”, considering she found cooperation to be much better and useful than competition. Maybe she wouldn’t even consider an environment that is perceived as a competitive challenge as competition at all. Again, the definition of competition doesn’t seem to be a universal one, which creates big problems in regards to questions concerning it.

Furthermore,  we don’t know wether an increased physiological stress response of the body is detrimental in the Economic field. An elevated heart rate, higher cortisol and testosterone levels ..etc might increase ones motivation to do better. This goes back to the overall debate of competition. Research shows that humans need a certain level of arousal to be perform a task well. Therefore, a low level of competition being perceived as a threat in the economic setting, increasing the physiological stress response of the body might result in higher productivity and more rapid economical development. 

Maybe another useful approach to the questions of competition might be philosophy. In the end we don’t know wether the meaning to human life is to live a stress-free, contempt life or wether we are supposed to advance and develop as the dominant species of earth. 



  1. Hello, this was a very insightful read.
    I also agree that there are many factors that can affect whether we perceive competition as a challenge or a threat. I personally feel that this plays a role in whether increased physiological stress is detrimental in the economic field. I tend to believe that both too much and too little stress is detrimental, as too little can lead to boredom and too much can lead to distress and anxiety. Perhaps even if competition is initially perceived as a challenge, too much stress may turn it into a threat instead. I’m not completely sure though.
    I also found it very interesting how you pointed out the more philosophical aspects of this. I feel like there’s no real objective meaning in life; it depends on the individual to create their own. Perhaps the meaning of life is to give life meaning? I’m not sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey! Thanks for your comment ! I agree, it’s a very complicated matter. Robert Dodson and his partner developed a theory called the Yorkers-Dodson law, which argues exactly what you said. The law states that there is an optimal level of ‘arousal’ (the meaning of arousal here being similiar to stress) to perform well on a certain task. It argues that too much arousal leads to anxiety, strong stress and impaired performance, while too little arousal leads to boredom, fatigue and sleepiness. Further research into that area of psychology would be really interesting. And perhaps you’re right – maybe we have to find or come up with our own, individual meaning to life. Maybe not. Looking at competiton from a philosophical lens would be very interesting in my opinion.


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