Ranks and rivals: A theory of competition

Stephen M. Garcia, Avishalom Tor, Richard Gonzalez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social comparison theories typically imply a comparable degree of competition between commensurate rivals who are competing on a mutually important dimension. However, the present analysis reveals that the degree of competition between such rivals depends on their proximity to a meaningful standard. Studies 1 to 3 test the prediction that individuals become more competitive and less willing to maximize profitable joint gains when they and their commensurate rivals are highly ranked (e.g., #2 vs. #3) than when they are not (e.g., #202 vs. #203). Studies 4 to 6 then generalize these findings, showing that the degree of competition also increases in the proximity of other meaningful standards, such as the bottom of a ranking scale or a qualitative threshold in the middle of a scale. Studies 7 and 8 further examine the psychological processes underlying this phenomenon and reveal that proximity to a standard exerts a direct impact on the basic unidirectional drive upward, beyond the established effects of commensurability and dimension relevance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)970-982
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Behavioral economics
  • Choice behavior
  • Competition
  • Decision making
  • Social capital
  • Social comparison

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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