February 21, 2016

Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior

Viewing work primarily as a competitive endeavor may harm our enjoyment, performance and relationships (read more). New research shows that competitiveness not only affects our behavior before and during the competition but also after the competition. It shows that when winners feel they outperformed their co-contestants they tend to behave more dishonestly due to an enhanced sense of entitlement. Thus, entering a competition may increase unethical behavior, winning may further reinforce it.

Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior
Schurr & Ritov (2016)
Significance: Competition is prevalent. People often resort to unethical means to win (e.g., the recent Volkswagen scandal). Not surprisingly, competition is central to the study of economics, psychology, sociology, political science, and more. Although we know much about contestants’ behavior before and during competitions, we know little about contestants’ behavior after the competition has ended. Connecting postcompetition behaviors with preceding competition experience, we find that after a competition is over winners behave more dishonestly than losers in an unrelated subsequent task. Furthermore, the subsequent unethical behavior effect seems to depend on winning, rather than on mere success. Providing insight into the issue is important in gaining understanding of how unethical behavior may cascade from exposure to competitive settings.

Abstract: Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. Five studies reveal that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Studies 3a and 3b demonstrate that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, study 4 demonstrates that a possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.

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