The Psychology of Competition

Picture yourself in a room, waiting for a job interview. First, you’re alone. Then two more people enter, then some more until every seat is taken. There’s a study that knows exactly how you feel: A little less motivated for every single person that enters.

Does competition make you panic? (by marieon at

“Modern life often seems like a rat-race,“ it says in the study ‘More Competitors, Less Competition‘ by the European Association of Law and Economics (EALE).

With many ‘rats’ in the race, the competitive motivation will shrink; with only few, everyone will try to win the race.

The two researchers Stephen Garcia and Avishalom Tor found out that people who thought they were competing against 10 others finished a simple test a lot faster than those who thought they were in the race with 100 others.

As the number of test-takers increased, the average test scores dropped.

Garcia and Tor called this phenomenon the N-effect – n being taken from math indicating any number, being the number of competitors in their study.

The study points out that N may be perceived differently by people sitting at a poker-table or those who are running a marathon. But the principle stays the same:

“As N increases, the forces underlying social comparison processes diminish, making social comparison less important,“ the researchers observed.

Now, what does that tell us about the human mind and its behavior in situations of competition? Just because mathematically the chance of getting the job is reduced, we stop from actually trying as hard as we can?

Well, I guess Garcia and Tor discovered yet another subconscious mechanism of the human mind that has not only become obsolete at our state of evolution, but harms us in our ambitions.

Perfect conditions and what to do without them

According to the N-effect, it would be wiser for employers to test their candidates together with only few other competitors in order to see what everybody is really capable of.

But if you end up in a room full of other people, you might want to push yourself a little bit harder next time.

Just try to shut up that little voice in your head that keeps saying: „I don’t stand a chance against all of them anyways“ and you might already be a step ahead of the crowds.

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