Appraisal and the Amenability of Norms

Kohn argues in chapters 8 & 9 that structural competition is far more insidious then intentional competition and in order for intentional competition to change in a profound way, it must be propelled forward with changes to structural competition. He argues in his chapter on women and competition that women’s less frequent propensity for competition should not be framed within the framework of failure to “succeed,” as has sometimes been done. If success is defined in terms of competition than women will be seen as failures. Rather women’s differential propensity for relational behavior and moral reasoning, as well as play that errs on the side of being holistic and cooperative should be seen as strengths. He argues that women have been encouraged to be as competitive as men to promote gender equality within the feminist project. For Kohn who eschews competition wholly, he deems proponents of this approach as “Pseudo-feminists.” These feminists, according to Kohn, respond to sexism by adopting traits that men have typically had a monopoly over. Kohn believes this is not helpful. Instead, relationships, cooperation, and holistic moral reasoning should be pursued as goals rather than the goals that competition aims towards. For this to occur, intentional competition cannot be abolished alone. Kohn asserts that structural changes are far more impactful and sustainable.

One of the rhetorical moves for bolstering his stance on the necessity for structural change is by citing the famous Stanford Prison experiment. In the study, psychologically stable individuals were randomly assigned the roles of prisoner and prison guard. Very quickly, these individuals started to arbitrarily perpetuate force and these healthy adults seemed to adopt their roles and act in accordance with them. The experiment was significant because it highlighted the role of the situation over and above individuals’ inherent dispositions. Situational factors being subsumed under structural factors such as roles, have significant force on human behavior.

This very much relates to an article by Church and Thambusamy (2017) written in “The Journal of Computer information systems.” This study aimed to study the role of competition in the way’s users of “Online Social Network Sites” portray their online information by either not disclosing or misrepresenting themselves. They posited that “Personal Information Deception” is mediated precisely by the extent to which online social media users viewed themselves as being in competition with others. The study asserts that Social Network sites lend themselves to the calculated misrepresentation of economic status and the access to a wide variety of socio-economic statuses which in the past might not have been available and observable. One is able to see the discrepancy of their own success and others. This leaves individual’s feelings they lack in the social, economic, and physical domains which lends itself to competition. Social Impact Theory supports this. It asserts that when activity is perceived as being judged, people’s conformity increases. Within the seemingly unlimited audience within Social Networking sites, there is even greater sense of pressure to conform, thus driving competition.

The theoretical framework Church and Thambusamy use is Bagozzi’s “self-regulation framework of attitudes, desires, and behavior.” This framework allows use to understand the relationship between attitudes, emotions, and intentions. Thus, people appraise situations to determine if they are goal-relevant. These form the basis for desires which are followed by intentions which can be positive or negative. The means by which this model maps on to the affinity for deception online is such that appraisals necessarily are informed by social norms. In this study, the social norms are the ones dictated by those specified Social Networking Sites. The feelings of competition are a derivation of those appraisals, which then informs action like a relevant coping mechanism. Unsurprisingly, the results of the study suggest that the extent of competitive desires act as antecedents for Personal Information Deception within Online Social Networking sites.

I think this line of thought somewhat converges with that of @benrow who questioned the conclusions of an article by Schurr and Ritov which claimed that winning predicts dishonest behavior. In the Church and Thambusamy article, it was not winning that lead to dishonest behavior like misrepresentation of personal information. In one sense, it is the “losing” whereby one is at a loss relative to other individuals’ social and economic status through their exposure to it vis a vis social networking sites. The caveat is that the antecedents for competition are informed by appraisals which are shaped by social norms. Whilst Buckert et al. previously mentioned the Challenge Hypothesis and the Biosocial Model to explain how competition elicits increases in testosterone and further “status seeking behavior,” what can be argued is that the appraisal of a situation as being one of competition should theoretically mediate the increases of testosterone.

Thus far, Kohn hasn’t been entirely convincing in his arguments about the extent to which or the specific mechanisms which actually guide norms of competition and how these are enacted in our behavior. This week’s study, specifically the theoretical framework that Church and Thambusamy use elucidate what Kohn has tried to argue in the past. What they all can agree on is that norms around competition inform the way individuals appraise something which may/may not produce a desire for competition which ultimately determines ones coping response. Whether or not we should wholesale deem competition as a negative thing or whether we can wholly avoid or abolish it is still contentious and up for debate. Nonetheless, what this week’s readings do accomplish is by arguing that norms inform competition, and that they are potentially amenable.

Church, E. M., & Thambusamy, R. (2017). Competition and Information Deception in Online Social Networks. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 58(3), 274-281. doi:10.1080/08874417.2016.1261376


  1. Your reflection of the reading from Kohn was very compelling. I enjoyed your synthesis of Kohn’s central argument, as well as providing examples to assess this argument from several angles. As you mentioned, Kohn assumes that competition – within our system and society – is gendered, placing women at a disadvantage in comparison to men. Thus, Kohn argues for a macroscopic, structural reform to reduce the inequalities that women face in a competitive environment. However, you point out that Kohn does not provide sufficient evidence to expand on the extent to which these structures influence our behaviour. This being said, you do acknowledge that structural norms influence individual competition, and that structures and/or norms can be amended to change competition as well. If we are not certain of the extent to which these structures and norms influence competition, how much of an impact will changing structures have on individual competition? Do you think this is something worth looking into? Personally, I think that it goes without saying that social norms and structures influence our perspectives and actions in our daily lives, so I may even suggest that it can be a safe assumption to say that amending these structures – without fixating on the extent to which these structures impact individual competition – are important aspects in and of themselves.


  2. Thank you @dankim17 for taking the time to read and reflect on the post! I think pondering on the extent to which norms affect competition is helpful but, ultimately there is the choice of amending intentional competition or structural competition. We know overwhelmingly that norms and the situation affect behavior. Thus, it seems like making structural changes would have an overall more robust effect. I think towards the end of your post come to agree with me!


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