Monday, July 27, 2009

People who need people . . . to compete, but not too many people

I can't remember where I found this blog post - but, I've been meaning to write something about it for awhile. It's a discussion of a psychology study regarding how the number of competitors affects how hard individuals compete. Simply, we are less motivated when the group size is larger - even if the odds of winning were the same.

That last point is the most important part - because, when it comes to racing, most of us are used to more people in a race means that there are more good runners - and therefore we have a worse chance of winning. But, in this study the same percentage of students would win a prize. It's as if you went to two different races, one with 100 people and one with 10,000 people. And the prize structure was that the top 10% received a prize - meaning that 10 people got a prize in the first race and 1,000 people got a prize in the second race. This study seems to show that most people will be more motivated in the first race than the second.

Since I did write my thesis on performance in groups based on the status of the individual - I have a few comments on this study. First, I am constantly intrigued by how people behave around each other - I many times surprise myself with my own behavior - much less other people. What's so incredible to me is that for the most part our behavior is mostly driven by a very simple concept - we pursue pleasure and avoid pain. But, we quickly understand as children that it's not always that simple. We might want to grab a hotdog off the grill - but, then we feel pain when we touch the grill. Although we quickly understand not to touch the grill - other lessons are much harder to learn - especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships. We constantly make bad decisions or wrong assumptions when it comes to others - even when it comes to people we've known our entire lives.

Given this complexity - some people just give up. They claim they don't care what other people think - because they've "learned" that it's impossible to figure out how others will react to them - so, it's "better" to just give up. Of course people who really take that to heart are usually very lonely and unhappy - most of the rest of us who say that are just kidding ourselves. We DO care what other people think - especially on a sub-conscious level. Studies like this one show how we are constantly monitoring our situation in regards to the others - in this case, we will try our hardest only if the group is small enough that we can't be "anonymous".

Like with social loafing, groupthink, and the bystander effect - we don't care as much about our behavior if we think that both pleasure or pain will be spread out to the group - instead of being focused on ourselves.

Last week
Monday: 4 miles
Tuesday morning: 4 miles
Tuesday afternoon: 10 miles 8X800m 90 sec rest (2:34.7, 2:33.6, 2:34.0, 2:34.8, 2:32.1, 2:29.7, 2:28.2, 2:20.7)
Wednesday: 8.5 miles
Thursday morning: 4 miles
Thursday afternoon: 11 miles 12X400m 400m rest (71.8, 72.0, 70.2, 71.3, 69.7, 69.5, 69.3, 68.7, 68.3, 67.5, 66.8, 66.3)
Friday: 8.5 miles
Saturday: 17 miles
Sunday: 8.5 miles
Total: 75.5 miles

This week:
Monday: 10 miles
Tuesday morning: 4 miles
Tuesday afternoon: 10 miles track workout
Wednesday: 10 miles
Thursday morning: 4 miles
Thursday afternoon: 12 miles 4X2 mi tempo
Friday: 6 miles
Saturday: 10 miles possible track workout
Sunday: 17 miles
Total: 83 miles


RM said...

Interesting point. I find that I work harder in bigger events. I love them. I hate small races, it takes the fun out of it. The prize thing is a variable and I don't think it should be applicable - if I was going to win a prize for being in the top 1000, I'd probably just be psyched to get some kind of prize.

Big events are almost always more competitive, at least at the top. I would rather get 100th at Broad St 10 miler and run a fast time than get 4th at Annapolis Cherry Pit 10 Miler and run slow because I'm out there by myself.

Triathlons same thing - I get more pumped for Columbia than any other race, because I know everyone who's everyone is showing up and it's your chance to go head to head with some fast people. At the NJ State Tri I know I'll place well even if I don't do that well and then the wind is swiped from my sails.

Ben said...

that's a good point. this whole study might be moot in the case of races - because usually we treat the largest races as our goal races. Also, there are many more people "paying attention" to these races. That's one problem with most social psychology experiments - they attempt to isolate one variable - but, often times in the real world that one variable is never the only variable that changes between different scenarios.