Reading 1.6

  • Read the text and choose the answer (A, B, C or D) which you think fits better according to the text.


( … ) Rivalry differs from other kinds of competition in its intimacy. It offers contenders a psychological prize people cannot win in other contexts: the chance to beat someone obnoxiously familiar, someone whose abilities and traits are frustratingly matched with their own. Whether on the field, in a classroom or at work, rivalry changes more than our body chemistry. Researchers are now finding that it also sways our minds, changing how we think and behave during competition – and outside of it. Rivalry not only boosts motivation but can also disrupt rational thinking, bias memories and encourage unethical behaviour. 

Although competition has long interested social psychologists, only recently have scientists looked at situations involving true rivals. They are discovering that the psychology of rivalry differs in important ways from that of ordinary competition. On the positive side, rivalry can be highly motivating. In unpublished work, social psychologist Gavin J. Kilduff of New York Un iversity’s Stern Schools  of Business analysed six years’ worth of race results achieved by a running club in New York to identify rival racers – runners who were evenly matched, similar to one another in race and gender, and who frequently competed against one another. Kilduff found that runners consistently ran faster when competing against rivals. The mere presence of a rival could trim between 20 and 30 seconds off a runner’s total race time in a five-kilometre race. ( .. . ) 

Rivalry can often hamper performance, however, especially when it comes to decision-making. In a 2005 study, negotiations expert Deepak Malhotra of Harvard Business School and his colleagues asked participants to imagine themselves at an auction for a one-of-a-kind item for which they agreed to pay no more 30 than $150. In the final round of bidding, some of the participants were told there were eight other contenders for the item, whereas others were told they were up against only one, to simulate a type of rivalry. Then the researchers told all participants that a competitor had bid $150 and that they had to decide whether to bid higher. Participants facing a single bidder rated their excitement and anxiety as much higher than those bidding against a group and were far more likely to exceed the preset bidding limit. This behaviour is economically irrational, because the more bidders remaining in the final round, the more the contested object is likely to be worth. ( … ) 

Rivalry impairs not only our judgment but also people’s memories. In a study published in February, psychologist Kevin S. LaBar of Duke University invited male fans of the Duke men’s basketball team and of the Duke’s rival University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to watch their teams face each other on a big screen TV. Each participant watched the game with two or three other fans of the same team. Later LaBar asked the fans to view segments of the game while lying in a functional MRI machine. Each segment focused on a single play whose outcome clearly benefited either Duke or U.N.C. – but the clip always ended just before the play did, at which point the fan tried to recall how the play ended. La Bar found that fans remembered outcomes that favoured their team far more accurately than those benefiting the rival team. ( … ) 

Because we encounter people we consider rivals quite often – both in and outside direct competition – rivalries may alter our motivation and moral code on a regular basis, Kilduff believes. Logging onto Facebook in the morning and scrolling through your newsfeed only to stumble on a personal rival’s obnoxious status update or vain photos could influence your behaviour and decisions throughout the day. You may be more likely to, say, run that red light, cut in line at the movie theatre, claim a co-worker’s idea as your own or tell a white lie to excuse a transgression against someone you love. 

In related work, also unpublished, Kilduff tested the relationship between rivalry and unethical behaviour by simulating rivalries in the laboratory. He set up two contests. In the rival condition, students repeatedly faced the same opponent and experienced narrow margins of victory and defeat; in the ordinary competition situation, participants faced different opponents and experienced lopsided margins. The students who faced a rival later scored higher on a test of Machiavellian attitudes, which measures whether people endorse selfish, devious and manipulative behaviour. High scores on this scale are correlated with unethical actions such as cheating, lying and exploitation. Competing against a rival, Kilduff says, may bring out the inner Machiavelli in people. ‘Rivalry opens up the possibility you might behave irrationally or unethically based solely on the relationship you have with your competitor. It just changes everything: 

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