The Psychology of Competition: a Social Comparison Perspective

Stephen Garcia (University of Michigan)
Avishalom Tor (University of Notre Dame)
Tyrone Schiff (University of Michigan)

Abstract: We propose a new framework that distinguishes among individual and situational factors in the social comparison process that produces competitive behavior. The familiar individual factors naturally vary among similarly situated people, including the relevance of the performance dimension, the commensurability of rivals, and their relationship closeness to the individual. Researchers have long established that as relevance, commensurability, and closeness increase, so do social comparison concerns and competitive behavior. The more recently identified situational factors, on the other hand, are features of the social environment that affect similarly situated individuals, including proximity to a standard, social category lines, and the number of competitors. When rivals are proximate to a standard, members of different versus the same social category group, or among a few versus many competitors, social comparison concerns and competitive behavior intensify. The situational account not only uncovers an important set of hitherto unnoticed variables that shape social comparison, but also offers new insights regarding the role of social comparison in organizations and other policy-relevant settings and charts fruitful directions for future social comparison research.

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