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Venom 06-03-2006 08:30 AM

Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
“America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser….Americans play to win. That's why America has never lost a war, for the very thought of losing is hateful to an American.” (General Patton). America is a society obsessed with competition. Some would even claim that “competition is an inescapable fact of life…we indeed have a competitive ‘code’ in our chromosomes” (Ruben, ) (note that no evidence was, or has been provided for this genetic “code”).

Through the medium of sports, we have seen athletes attain amazing feats. Such feats have lead many to suggest that competition “brings the best out of us.”

Athletes commonly note that competition motivates and inspires them, such as when Ronnie Coleman goes head to head against Jay Cutler. For example, writer James Michener states that (1976):

I am always on the side of healthy competition. I love it. I seek it out. I prosper under its lash. I have always lived in a fiercely competitive world and have never shied away. I live in such a world now and I would find life quite dull without the challenge.

Since competition is so prevelent in America, it would be useful to analyze the efficacy of competition.

So I have a couple of questions for you guys to ponder, and respond to.

1. Is competition "human nature" in other words, is it inhate to humans, and inevitable to avoid? Or is a social construct, that is learned?
2. Is competition optimal for performance--at school, at work, and at play--or are there better alternatives?
3. A common argument from proponents of competition is that it is the only effective way to motivate people, maximize performance, and have fun. Do you guys have any alternative methods to competition?
4. Performance contingent rewards are given for performance. For instance, for beating someone in a contest, MVP rewards, All Star Selections, etc. Do you see any possible problems with these rewards? Or are they great, and we should continue to use them?

I look forward to hearing your guys opinions.

There are hundreds of studies on each topic I listed. So a quick search on the internet, may prove insightful. Opinions from experience and observation are welcome, as well.

Venom 06-07-2006 04:17 AM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
What an awesome question, Venom!! LOL, I'll answer it. [img]/forum/images/graemlins/tongue.gif[/img]

Well, my personal scientific opinion is that competition is learned, and not unnavoidable.

Eitzen (2001) argues that the American society has been so indoctrinated with competition, that Americans simply assume competition is a natural part life, “just like a fish doesn’t understand water because it does not know anything different.” Perhaps the easiest way to determine if competition is part of human nature is to study various cultures. Indeed, if humans are inherently competitive, seemingly all cultures would be structured around competition, as America is. Mead and colleagues (1937) did just this, and based on the observation of dozens of cultures concluded that:

the most basic conclusion which comes out of this research [is] that competitive and cooperative behavior on the part of individual members of a society is fundamentally conditioned by the total social emphasis of that society, that the goals for which individuals will work are culturally determined and are not the response of the organism to an external, culturally undefined situation.

In support of this, Deutcsh (1973, as cited by Kohn, 1992) who is considered by many to be the father of modern research on competition, suggests that “it would be unreasonable to assume there is an innately determined human tendency for everyone to want to be ‘top dog.’” Sport Psychologists Tutko & Bruns (1976), who have a great deal of experience with athletes of various age groups, agree, stating:

Competition is a learned phenomena…people are not born with a motivation to win or to be competitive. We inherit a potential for a degree of activity, and we all have the instinct to survive. But the will to win comes through training and the influence of ones family and environment.

Thus, based on this evidence, competition is not an inherent attribute, but rather, a learned characteristic. This is further supported by studies showing that Americans are consistently more competitive than other cultures (Beatrice & Whiting, 1975).

For a comprehensive rebuttal against the competitive human nature argument see Kohn (1992, The “Human Nature” Myth).

Kohn, Alfie. (1992). No Contest. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Kohn went off in that book. I highly reccommend for anyone that is interested in the topic.

Opinions? [img]/forum/images/graemlins/laugh.gif[/img]

ryancostill 06-07-2006 10:25 AM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
My opinion is that this is a very interesting post! And a topic that I know very little about so thanks for the information.

First of all how would you define competition?

Does competition have to be against another individual? Could it be against oneself?

If the desire to better oneself can be deemed "competition" then I feel that the competitive nature is innate in all of us.

Humanistic psychologists, such as Carl Rogers (who had the wonderful middle name "Ransom") would probably agree. They believe the individual strives to better oneself in attmepting to grow and "self-actualise".

Venom 06-07-2006 03:48 PM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?

If the desire to better oneself can be deemed "competition" then I feel that the competitive nature is innate in all of us.

[/ QUOTE ]

I absolutely agree!

I will post my definition later today!

Venom 06-07-2006 06:52 PM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
Here are my thoughts on what competition and cooperation (something I would like to discuss as well; particularly, as an alternative to competition) are.

Coakley (2004) suggests that competition is “A social process that occurs when rewards are given to people for how their performance compares with the performances of others during the same task or when participating in the same event.” This involves an outcome (competitive) goal orientation of comparing performance to others and defeating them. On the other hand, cooperation can be defined as “A social process through which performance is evaluated and rewarded in terms of the collective achievement of a group of people working together to reach a particular goal” (Coakley, 2004). Similarly, Johnson and Johnson (2000) suggest that “Cooperative learning exists when students work together to accomplish shared learning goals.” In summary, these definitions suggest that cooperation involves individuals helping each other towards a common goal, and receiving a shared reward for their efforts.

Kohn further separates competition into structural and intentional competition.

Structural competition has to do with your environment. It means you are in a situation, where your success, by necessity, means someone else’s failure. For instance, in order to win a tennis match, by necessity, someone else must lose. In other places, such as college admissions, or job applications, your acceptance, decreases the probability of another being excepted. Kohn refers to this as mutually exclusive goal attainment (MEGA). Which means, your success requires someone else’s failure.

Intentional competition has do with the persons goal orientation. Someone can be competitive, even in non competitive situations. For example, always trying to out do others, or win a contest, or show you are the “top dog” in a given situation.

To distinguish, you could be in a structural competitive situation, such as a tennis match, but you have a mastery orientation, and are just concerned with your own performance. Nonetheless, your success, translates into someone else’s failure. So though you do not have intentional competition here, you do have structural competition.

Two other distinguishments are intergroup and intragroup competition.

Intergroup competition are two teams competing against each other. This is wide spread in sport such as basketball, and baseball.

Intragroup is competing against people in your own group. For example, at a job, you are competing to see who can sell the most items.

Also, there is a difference between social comparison and competition.

You can compare yourself to someone without trying to defeat or be better than that person (competition). For instance, you can read shakespear, and try to elmulate him, and improve your writing style, using his source as a source of motivation, rather than trying to be better than shakespear. John Harvey summarizes this, “It is one thing to act from a desire to excel somebody else at something (competition). It is quite another to act with a view to getting something done…and ye to be stimulated in the acivity by a parallel or contrasted activity of others.”

Also, if you are trying to beat a record time, that is not necessarily a competition. You can set up a standard for your won personal excellence, and try to attain it, without having the goal of wanting to defeat someone. So I can see that the mean time in my class for running a mile is 9 minutes, and my mile time is 11 minutes. And say, hmmm, that seems like a good improvement to make. And then, I take a mastery goal, and try to run a mile in less than 9 minutes. But I did not have to have in mind defeating others. I just used that comparison to see where I was.

Now, as you stated, some say, “I am only competing against myself” Kohn says this is not competition. Competition, essentially, involves others losing. This is the heart of the problem of competition.


If the desire to better oneself can be deemed "competition" then I feel that the competitive nature is innate in all of us.

[/ QUOTE ]

So no, I would not say that focusing on your own performance is competition.

However, you are right, based on my research. Humans are inherently motivated for self improvement.

I discuss this a lot here, The Effects of External Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation.

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as an individuals need to feel self determination, competency, and pride in something (McCullagh, 2005). Therefore, athletes who are intrinsically motivated participate in sports for no apparent reward other than the satisfaction and pleasure they get from the activity itself (Deci, 1971). Extrinsic Motivation can be defined as performance of an activity in order to attain some separate outcome (Ryan & Deci, 2000, a). Therefore, athletes that are extrinsically motivated participate in sports for external causes such as rewards, positive feedback, recognition, etc.; rather than for the inherent satisfaction of performing the activity itself (intrinsic motivation).

Self Determination theory suggests that humans have three central psychological needs, which are relatedness, effectance, and autonomy. Deci & Ryan (1994) summarize these needs in the following quote: “people are inherently motivated to feel connected to others within a social milieu (relatedness), to function effectively in that milieu (effectance), and to feel a sense of personal initiative in doing so (autonomy)” (p.7). Notice the term “inherently”. This theory suggests that humans have an innate tendency to develop these needs. Nevertheless, these needs do not develop automatically; they must be furnished by the environment, which can either promote growth, or impede it.

There is a ton of evidence backing this. Again, I show a lot of this evidence in my article.

Let me know your guys thoughts on this. I am definitely not giving a yes or no answer here. I am trying to sharpen my understanding of the topic.

Venom 06-09-2006 09:53 PM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
If anyone disagrees that competition is not innate, then please let me know.


Seeing that competition must be learned, and has not only been learned, but is engrained in the American Society, it would be helpful to understand the usefulness of competition, in order to assess whether Americans should consider abandoning their past time “obsession”.

For those that have read my articles on goal orientations and intrinsic motivation, this will look familar to you. Otherwise, I would advise reading them in JHR.

I'll post more in a bit.

Growth In Motion 06-11-2006 09:08 AM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
Gee, alot of feedback here so far...

So here are my unresearched, uneducated thoughts...

I believe that competition can be seen to be made up of jealousy and selfishness, which seem to be human nature. We as humans want to be seen as the best, simply superior to the rest. When we see opposition in other humans, it is natural for us to try and beat them at whatever they're doing, to make ourselves seen as superior. As far as it being a social contruct, i also believe it too be, to a degree. Obviously if one has no competition you can't really observe competitiveness, which suggests that society does has an impact, making it learned. I guess competition is always in us, it just takes a trigger or spark to bring it out of us.

For some people, competition may be optimal for performance. Most people have rivals who they're always competing against. They are likely to say that it's the competition between them and their rival that drives them to strive to perform aswell as they can and then some. Others, however, will see other competitors or rivals as barriers preventing them from achieving optimally. These people see those who are better than themselves at something as a negative concept, and feel negative about themselves. How can somebody perform optimally if they dont believe in themself? I guess competition will only help those who are game to the competition.

Ofcourse competition motivates people. Motivation can be as simple as 'if i beat him in this race, i would have improved so much since last year." Observing this competition is always inspiring, which also motivates. So as one can see, competition, for those who want it, will motivate. As for fun, i guess its only fun for those who want the competition. It can really put those who dont want it into a negative state, which will hinder performance.

Venom 06-11-2006 04:24 PM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
That was a great response!

As you bring up, it really depends. At least, the magnitued that competition will motivate, or demotivate an individual, depends on their goal orientations, among other variables.


I believe that competition can be seen to be made up of jealousy and selfishnes which seem to be human nature. We as humans want to be seen as the best, simply superior to the rest.

[/ QUOTE ]

I actually thought of this, but I think of it the other way around lol. You see, maybe it is not that we are inherently jealous, but rather that the insanely competitive society we live in, has lead us towards an outcome oriented mentality, which then promotes this jealousy. We then assume that this is innate, because we are so indoctrinated in competition, as Eitzen suggests, “just like a fish doesn’t understand water because it does not know anything different.”

Pr4 06-12-2006 01:14 AM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
Since we're bringing up the possiblity of competition being innate or spurred by society, I think it's important to bring up different types of societies. America, for example, is a good ol' capitalist society. On the other hand, when you look at socialism, the society's basic purpose is to eliminate ALL competitive edge between its citizens by making everyone EQUAL (everyone works towards one common good, not for themselves). Perhaps the dominance of capitalist nations around the world and the overall failure of socialism and communism in history is proof that competition is innate and can't be suppressed through society.

Growth In Motion 06-12-2006 02:25 AM

Re: Competition—the Struggle for Excellence or Victory?
as Eitzen suggests, “just like a fish doesn’t understand water because it does not know anything different.”

[/ QUOTE ] Very interesting. It really does make you think differently about the situation. What also makes you think is Pr4's example about America. America is capitalist, but promotes socialism. Its kind of hypocritical in a sense [img]/forum/images/graemlins/tongue.gif[/img]

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