This article introduces the N-effectthe discovery that increasing the number of competitors (N) can decrease competitive motivation. Studies 1a and 1b found evidence that average test scores (e.g., SATscores) fall as the average number of test takers at test-taking venues increases. Study 2 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. Study 3 showed that the N-effect is strong among individuals high in socialcomparison orientation and weak among those low in social-comparison orientation. Study 4 directly linked the N-effect to social comparison, ruling out ratio bias as an explanation of our results and finding that social comparison becomes less important as N increases. Finally, Study 5 found that the N-effect is mediated by social comparison. Limitations, future directions, and implications are discussed.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We extend our sincere thanks to two anonymous reviewers. We also thank Katherine Burson, Shane Frederick, Shirli Kopelman, Norbert Schwarz, Oscar Ybarra, and seminar participants at Duke University, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Northwestern University Law School, Rice University, the University of California at Irvine, and the University of Michigan, as well as participants at the annual meetings of the Academy of Management and the American Law and Economics Association, for helpful comments. In addition, we thank research assistants Bryan Harrison, Mitch Meyle, Bryan Spence, and Irina Yudovich. Support was provided by a Horace Rackham Faculty Grant, by European Union Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant No. 31078, and by the Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business at Harvard Law School.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychology (all)