A new book on the human proclivity to compete called Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing examines factors that influence our tendency to try and outdo our friends and colleagues. Gender is one such factor. In situations where a reasonable amount of effort could carry the day, men and women are equally competitive. But when the odds are stacked against winning, only men show a persistent willingness to try to triumph. A particularly stark example is at elite universities where male competition can result in lower education rates than at less competitive schools.
What’s the Big Idea?
We all compete but scientists have identified a class of people who compete too strongly. The hypercompetitive among us consider their main goal to be beating their opponent, rather than continuing to develop their own skills. Richard Ryckman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Maine, argues that hypercompetitives have a greater need for power and control over others. They are more narcissistic but less altruistic and less respectful. People of both types can be successful, he adds. When it comes to actual performance, however, science suggests that competitiveness bears no real effect.
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