In Gamification More Competitors Equal Less Competition

Here is some interesting research about competition reported in an research paper titled “The N-Effect: More Competitors, Less Competition” by Stephen M. Garcia from the University of Michigan and Avishalom Tor from the University of Haifa published in the Journal of Psychological Science, Volume 20—Number 7, 2008. In the research article, five studies were undertaken.

The article indicates that the less competitors in an environment, the better the performance of the individuals within the environment. The researchers are calling this the N-effect. The N-effect states “increasing the number of competitors (N) can decrease competitive motivation.”

Here are some interesting highlights from the article.

In the first study, the research article reported evidence that average test scores (e.g., SATscores) fall as the average number of test takers at test-taking venues increases.

In the second study, they found that individuals trying to finish an easy quiz among the top 20% in terms of speed finished significantly faster if they believed they were competing in a pool of 10 rather than 100 other people.

The third study found that the N-effect is strong among individuals high in social-comparison orientation* and weak among those low in social-comparison orientation. In this study, Participants indicated that they would try significantly harder in a 5-km race with 50 contestants (M 55.43, SD 51.63) than in a 5-km race with 500 contestants (M 54.89, SD 51.71) given the top 10% get a $1,000 prize.

*Social Comparison Orientation is centered on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations through comparisons with others. As the article indicated, “People who compare themselves with others on an important dimension begin to behave competitively toward those others.” This is social comparison orientation. This makes sense, we choose to compete against people we are close to or whom we think we are on a similar level.

In a fourth study, the researchers directly linked the N-effect to social comparison, ruling out ratio bias as an explanation of results and finding that social comparison becomes less important as N increases.

Finally, Study 5 found that the N-effect is brought about by social comparison

Also, the researchers point out that increasing N from 10,000 to 10,100 is unlikely to change competitive motivation significantly. Moreover, the impact of both N and changes in N may vary across competitive contexts; N poker-table competitors may well be perceived differently from N marathon runners. So some common sense needs to be applied when thinking of the N-effect in terms of number of competitors, the task and how people perceive their ability to successfully compete.

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Karl Kapp
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