How many times have you used competition to motivate your staff? Or had your boss use competition to motivate you? Does competition work? Is it really motivating? We take for granted that competition will motivate people to do stuff, and it can, but the research on competition shows that competition is only motivating with certain conditions.
Competition Motivates Men, But Not Women — Gneezy's research showed that boys and girls and men and women do not respond the same way to competition. Competition often increases performance for boys and men (as long as there aren’t too many competitors – see below), but it doesn’t always increase performance for girls and women. If women are competing against other women then there might be an improvement in performance, although it’s usually not large. And if women are competing against men then they often show no improvement in performance with a competition.
Fewer Competitors = More Competition — Did you take a standardized test like the SAT or ACT to get into college? How many people were in the room when you took the test? What does it matter? Research by Stephen Garcia and Avishalom Tor shows that it may matter a lot. Garcia and Tor first compared SAT scores for locations that had many people in the room taking the test versus locations that had smaller numbers. They adjusted the scores to control for the educational budget in that region and other factors. Students who took the SAT test in a room with fewer people scored higher. Garcia and Tor hypothesized that when there are only a few competitors, you (perhaps unconsciously) feel that you can come out on top, and so you try harder. And, the theory goes, when there are more people, it’s harder to assess where you stand and therefore you’re less motivated to try to come out on top. They called this the N effect, with N equaling number as in formulas.