VSL:SCIENCE // Why competition can be counterproductive

Competition leads us toward bigger, better, faster things: That’s the founding principle of capitalism, and of the Olympic Games. But is it always the case?

Psychologists at the University of Michigan have discovered that extremely competitive situations come with some hidden costs. The researchers examined people engaged in a variety of contests — students taking the SAT, runners in a sprint — and found that motivation is proportional to the number of competitors involved: For example, students taking standardized tests in a large lecture hall performed significantly worse than students who took the same test in a small classroom.

Why does increased competition inhibit performance? The scientists argue that being in larger groups makes it harder for us to compare ourselves with others — that we lose our bearings, and with them our fighting spirit.

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VSL:SCIENCE // Why competition can be counterproductive