Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Competitiveness

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How does it influence motivation?


Motivation is the drive and persistence an individual requires to fulfil targets and to reach goals (Lee & Liu, 2009). Motivation encompasses a kaleidoscope of factors that influence an individual's ability to achieve outcomes and to obtain results. Levels of motivation vary amongst individuals and a bevy of factors determine how motivated an individual can be. Both intrinsic as well as extrinsic factors (Abumahdeh et al, 2009) influence the motivational levels of individuals and the ways in which we can achieve our goals.

Motivated man running

What motivates people to be competitive? Is it an innate characteristic that humans are born with? Or is it an attitude that has been learned or trained through society values? Can we control this attitude or just succumb to it? Have you ever wondered what it is that motivates you to get out of bed? Or what motivates the person beside you to swim 15km a day? These motivational forces are based on individual differences and explains why people become competitive. There is a driving force within all of us but how we acknowledge and use this force represents our individual differences (Ryckman et al, 1997). Competitive natures vary amongst individuals some people use competition to achieve their potential and improve their personal growth and others use it for selfish gains to win acceptance and praise (Collier et al., 2010).

Competition can be defined as a contest between individuals and/or animals where they strive to attain and reach particular goals. These goals may be resources, food or awards (Ryckman et al., 1997). The concept of competitiveness has been linked to early socialisation processes between parents and children. Parents often teach individualism to their children and this is often characterised by making distinctions between themselves and others (Collier et al., 2010) . This could include the idea of exclusion of others and could lead to hypercompetitive attitudes that may be manipulative and exploitative in nature (Ryckman et al, 2009).

Competition and competitiveness[edit]

Motivation and competitiveness go hand in hand. Many individuals who are extremely motivated are also extremely competitive as they know what they want to achieve and how to get it[factual?]. When you think of the concept of competition a sporting event usually comes to mind. However it’s not just in sport that you will find competition. We have been in constant competition from birth as it was a competition for the sperm to join with the egg thus creating who and what we are today. As a society we are always in a constant competition with one another (Ryckman et al., 1997)to attain food, resources, the best supermarket carpark, and the cheapest fuel. Competition occurs in all facets of life such as in homes, schools, religion, the workplace, parliament, sports, fashion, music, theatre, supermarkets, food, resources and between states and nations.

Survival of the fittest
Competitive running

Competition doesn’t just occur between humans. Animals also rely on their competitive natures in order to survive. As proposed by Darwin, it's the 'survival of the fittest' those predators who are most competitive are more likely to capture the prey rather than those that are not as competitive (Preece 2003)[grammar?]. This competition and survival mechanism can be portrayed as just being part of 'the circle of life' how we adapt and live our lives within our habitats[grammar?]. Animals also experience sibling rivalry as they may need to compete with their siblings for food and for attention and may even become the prey themselves.

Evidence of competitiveness[edit]

Competitiveness occurs in all factors of life in every environment, situation, and position (Ryckman et al., 1997). Whether it be in the home between siblings and parents, in schools amongst teachers and students where students are vying for prizes and accolades. In games and sports where awards are given to people who place[grammar?]. In government where parties and leaders compete to rule the country and to issue policies and procedures[grammar?]. In religion with people handing out brochures welcoming others to the faith and trying to sway people towards their religion[grammar?]. In the workplace where individuals compete with each other for promotions and bonuses as well as companies competing with each other to meet targets[grammar?]. In fashion with styles, prices and brand names[grammar?]. Competition also occurs between the supermarkets to have the cheapest banana prices and the cheapest petrol prices. In music and theatre where talent is glorified with oscars and grammys[grammar?]. Between nations and states as they compete for resources, cheaper electricity and petrol and to meet coal demands[grammar?]. Competition occurs in all factors and these factors influence an individual's motivation.

Below is a gallery of images that portrays evidence of competitive environments and factors as mentioned above. The Vatican basilica represents the competition between religions around the world. The petrol pump and wind farm images represent the competition for resources that occurs everyday between individuals and states and nations. The power lines image represents the competitiveness of electricity prices around the globe and for the everyday items that require electricity to be used. The bananas image represents the age old competition between the supermarkets. The price of bananas is a very controversial issue at the moment and supermarkets are competing with each other to have the cheapest prices and to meet the consumer's needs. Lastly, the valedictorian image represents the competition within the schooling system. From the moment we start Kindergarten we are in a constant competition with our fellow classmates for grades, accolades and recognition.

Hypercompetitive, avoidance, and personal-development competitive individuals[edit]

Competitiveness comes in three main types – hypercompetitive individuals, competition avoidance individuals and personal development competitive individuals. Hypercompetitive individuals are those who show higher levels of the need to be superior to others, general mistrust of others, greater selfishness, lower self esteem and altruism (Collier et al., 2010). Hypercompetitive individuals have individualistic attitudes and some show less concern for others and are less willing to forgive others. This behaviour can be seen as damaging to the social fabric of a society (Collier, et al., 2010). Hypercompetitive individuals have a need to compete and win and may often manipulate or enhance their feelings of self worth and prestige by the exploitation and degradation of others (Ryckman et al., 2009). They are often depicted as being ruthless hunters who only care about affection and approval from others based on their success in certain situations (Ryckman et al., 2009). Often hypercompetitive individuals compete in events so as to gain favourable judgements such as prestige and recognition (Ryckman et al., 1997). By achieving their goals hypercompetitive individuals feel a sense of superiority and supremacy to others.

Hypercompetitiveness can be measured on the Hypercompetitive Attitude Scale which consists of 26 items that assesses the individual differences associated with hypercompetitive individuals[factual?]. Total scores can range from 26-130. Higher scores represent those with a stronger hyper competitive attitude (Collier et al., 2010).

Competition avoidance is a neurotic form of competitiveness where the individual feels the need to check their ambition because of the fear of dissatisfaction (Ryckman et al., 2009). These individuals usually avoid being conspicuous and stay out of the limelight. These individuals also fear losing affection and approval of others as a consequence of either being successful or of failure (Ryckman et al., 2009). Those with competitive avoidance often fear that success would cause other people to resent or look down on them (Ryckman et al., 2009). These individuals may also ensure that they purposely do not succeed so that they do not win.

As well as avoiding success, those with competitive avoidance do not like failure as they fear that others will look down on them, they become embarrassed and fear others will gloat about their victories over them (Ryckman et al., 2009). Individuals who are competition avoiders can be encouraged to overcome this by developing more confidence and a willingness to participate in activities regardless of what others think of them (Ryckman et al., 2009). These individuals can be encouraged to participate in structured activities that allow them to reach their goals without causing destructive behaviour to themselves or others (Ryckman et al., 2009). These individuals could also be encouraged to cultivate relationships within the competitive environment so as to enhance their social skills and to make them feel less threatened by failure or success as they may know the other competitors in a personal way (Ryckman et al, 2009).

Personal development competitive individuals are those who focus on personal growth and respect others as they provide the individual with the opportunity for learning and self discovery (Collier et al., 2010; Ryckman et al., 1997). These individuals want to win and be successful like hypercompetitive individuals however not at the expense of others (Collier et al., 2010). These individuals use the competitive environment to enhance their self discovery and self improvement (Ryckman et al., 1997). These individuals do not see it as a comparison with others but rather a comparison with themselves (Collier et al., 2010). They are independent and use the opportunity to choose their goals and achieve outcomes through success by being in concert with other competitors (Collier et al., 2010). These individuals express conformity, tradition, benevolence and respect (Ryckman et al., 1997). These individuals are psychologically healthy as they have high self-esteem and low neuroticism (Collier et al., 2010). They are also more sympathetic and concerned about others.

These individuals can be assessed by using the Personal Development Competitive Attitude Scale (Collier et al., 2010). This is a 15 item measure that assesses the individual differences in attitudes based on personal goals. Scores can range from 15-75 those with higher scores show a stronger personal development attitude (Collier et al, 2010).

Competitiveness can be measured through:
  • Approach to Achievement scale
  • Avoidance of Achievement Scale
  • Competitive Avoidance Scale
  • Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale
  • Hypercompetitive Attitude Scale
  • Neuroticism Scale
  • Personal-Development Competitive Attitude Scale

Competitive influences[edit]

Competition has a major influence on the motivation of an individual. Some individuals use competition as a positive means to achieve their goals. They use the competitive environment to gain personal growth and see other competitors as aides in helping them to reach their potential (Collier et al., 2010; Ryckman et al., 1997). Other individuals use competition in a negative way. These individuals use competition selfishly to achieve their goals without considering the consequences to themselves and others (Collier et al., 2010). Some individuals may become so consumed with motivation for their goal that they lose touch with other factors and their life becomes about the competition rather than other factors that are essential for life and growth.

Both external and internal factors affect how motivated an individual can be. These influences can have a positive and a negative experience on the individual and can impact on the way that they interact with others and society and the way in which they approach tasks. External factors may include the environment, society, and the relationships an individual has with another person. Internal factors could include the emotions of the person and the ways in which they deal with situations. Both the external and internal factors can become distorted when a person becomes consumed with competitiveness and their motivation may overpower their lives and becomes their main focus[factual?]. The relationship the individual has with him/herself and others may be impacted when they become too competitive as they may lose sight of what is important[factual?].

Society places a great emphasis and pressure on competition and the concept of winning (Ryckman et al., 2009). There is a controlling focus on being competitive and successful (Ryckman et al., 2009). This pressure that society places on the individual can cause them to experience low intrinsic motivation as the individual may feel that the competition becomes less focused on the enjoyment of the activity but rather on obtaining victory and success (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009). This concept is known as the hidden cost of reward (Reeve, 2009). That is, it is having the opposite effect on the individual rather than motivating them to win it is causing them to not enjoy the success that winning brings[grammar?]. This is causing the individual to have a lower intrinsic motivation and it causes them to be unable to enjoy the activity, their victory and success (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009).

Intrinsic motivation is the motivation to participate in an activity purely for the enjoyment that it gives to the individual (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009). This enjoyment allows the individual to pursue this activity and to perform at high standards (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009). When this intrinsic motivation becomes about the reward rather than the enjoyment the individual becomes less motivated to participate in this activity (Abuhamdeh et al, 2009). Thus competition and the competitive environment associated with competition has a profound effect on the motivation of an individual. It influences the individual's emotions and motivations towards that particular activity. Intrinsic motivation can have a positive effect on an individual as s/he enjoys the competition and uses the competitive environment to his/her advantage. This is a positive influence on motivation as the individual is enjoying the activity and enhancing his/her skills. By enjoying the competitive atmosphere it is allowing them to be successful in a positive way[factual?].

Extrinsic motivation can be defined as being the motivation to participate in an activity as a means to an end rather than an actual end (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009). That is, when an individual is extrinsically motivated they participate in activities so as to achieve victory and success rather than for the enjoyment that intrinsic motivation brings (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009). Those who are extrinsically motivated can be seen as being hypercompetitive as they are extremely motivated to achieve their goals and to be successful. This can have a negative influence on the individual as it may make them unhappy as they are participating in the activity not for enjoyment but to attain rewards[factual?]. The competitive environment can also affect their psychological health as it may affect their ability to interact with others as they would see all situations to be a competition even though they may not be (Abuhamdeh et al., 2009). This could cause their relationships to be affected as people may find them too competitive and over motivated that they may not wish to associate with them for much longer[factual?].

Another external factor that can influence the competitive motivation of an individual is the parental practices that were administered to the individual when they were growing up. Parents play a huge role in the upbringing of a child and many of the values that a child gains are similar to those values that their parents hold[factual?]. Socialisation practices developed by a parent can impact greatly on a child (Ryckman et al., 1997). Parents who have extreme individualistic attitudes and values are often considered to be hypercompetitive and use disciplinary practices that embed hypercompetitive attitudes in the children (Ryckman et al., 1997). Some of these practices can cause the children to feel powerless, insignificant, and mistrustful, thus causing them to feel this competitive attitude in many aspects of life (Ryckman et al., 1997). To overcome these feelings these individuals harden themselves by gaining a negative attitude towards others. They do this through adopting power, a sense of superiority and by a need for revenge and triumph (Ryckman et al., 1997).

Parents who have a positive attitude towards others and about competitive atmospheres usually instil these positive attitudes on to their children (Ryckman et al., 1997). If the individual is given support, encouragement and democratic treatment from their parents then they are able to reach their potential (Ryckman et al., 1997). These individuals then focus on their self growth and use this as their motivation to succeed in competition and regard others as being an aide to achieving these goals rather than a hindrance (Ryckman et al., 1997).

Society can impact on these child rearing practices by encouraging practices that focus on the learning of personal development competitive attitudes (Collier et al., 2010). These practices would allow for a more constructive approach to the achievement of goals and establishes a framework based on harmony, respect and personal growth rather than on hypercompetitive attitudes (Collier et al., 2010).

victorious cheer


Competition occurs everyday in all facets of life. Regardless of your age, gender, race or socio economic status you are subject to competition. Being overly competitive can have a negative impact on your intrinsic motivation and may cause you to dislike activities that were once enjoyable. Being overly competitive may also have impact your external motivation and allow you to receive praise and accolades. Being competitive does not have to be a bad thing. A little competition can be healthy but what you need to do is find the right balance and don't judge people on their competitiveness but rather their performance and good qualities.

See also[edit]


Abuhamdeh, S. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivational Orientations in the Competitive Context: An Examination of Person-Situation Interactions.Journal of Personality. 77:5

Collier, S.A., Ryckman, R.M., Thornton, R & Gold, J.A. (2010). Competitive personality Attitudes and Forgiveness of Others. The Journal of Psychology. volume 144, pg 535-543

Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Bellew, R., Mills, A. & Gale, C. (2009). The dark side of competition:How competitive behaviour and striving to avoid inferiority are linked to depression, anxiety, stress and self harm. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Therapy, Research and Practice.82, p 123-136.

Lee, H.W & Liu, C.H. (2009). The relationship among achievement motivation, psychological contract and work attitudes. Social Behavour and Personality. pg 37. 321-328

Preece, R. (2003). Darwinism, Christianity, and the Great Vivisection Debate. Journal of the History of Ideas. vol 64, number 3, p399-419.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion. Fifth edition.

Ryckman, R.M., Libby, C.R., van de Borne, D., Gold, J.A. & Lindner, M.A. (1997). Values of Hypercompetitive and Personal Development Competitive Individuals. Journal of Personality Assessment. 69,(2), 271-283.

Ryckman, R.M., Thornton, B. & Gold, J.A. (2009). Assessing Competition Avoidance as a Basic Personality Dimension. The Journal of Psychology, 143(2), 175-192.