Competition is an adaptive strategy that pits one person's interests against those of another.
Psychologists have long disagreed about competition. Is it a learned or a genetic part of human behavior? Sports often come to mind when thinking of competition. Competition also plays an influential role in the worlds of academia, in the workplace, and in many other areas. In the United States, individual rigor and competition are touted as central nationalistic qualities. Theoretically, U.S. society thrives exactly because there is a spirited competition for a limited amount of resources.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, competition has been seen as a natural and inevitable consequence of human drives. According to Sigmund Freud (1856– 1939), humans are born clamoring for attention and full of drives for fulfillment. According to Freud, people compete for the attention of their parents, seeking to divert it from siblings or from the other parent. Thereafter, people are in a lifelong conflict between their primitive impulses for gratification and the societal and cultural norms that mediate against pure indulgence.
A variety of different cultures have created research protocols to examine the importance placed on competition versus values such as cooperation. The studies generally conclude that Americans uniquely laud competition as both inevitable and desirable. In 1937, the world-renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901–78) published Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples, based on her studies of several aboriginal societies that did not prize competition. Many societies that Mead observed took a negative view of competing and considered cooperation a central cultural value. The Zuni Indians of Arizona, Mead found, valued cooperation far more than competition. For example, the Zuni held a ritual footrace for anyone who wanted to run, and the winner was never publicly acknowledged. If one person habitually won the race, that person was prevented from future participation. After studying dozens of such cultures, Mead's conclusion was that competitiveness is a culturally created aspect of human behavior.
See also Altruism ; Conformity ; Freud, Anna; Freud, Sigmund.
Arciero, Giampiero, and Guido Bondolfi. Selfhood, Identity, and Personality Styles. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Carrier, Martin, et al. The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice: Science and Values Revisited. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.
Deaux, Kay, and Mark Snyder. The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Eagly, Alice H. Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A SocialRole Interpretation. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013.
Engler, Barbara. Personality Theories. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2014.
Fiske, Susan T., et al. Handbook of Social Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.
Isaacs, Susan. Social Development in Young Children. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013.
Kellerman, Henry. Personality: How It Forms. New York: American Mental Health Foundation, 2012.
Seidman, Steven. Contested Knowledge: Social Theory Today. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.