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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 21-Jan-11

 


Friday 21-January-11

Competition, performance and cheating

There is a conventional wisdom that says to get people to perform better, you should pit them against one another in some form of competition -- but does this really work?

Researchers Christiane Schwieren and Doris Weichselbaumer gave students a maze-based computer task and then cranked up the competitive pressure. Half were paid according to how many mazes they completed and half were only paid if they were the top performer in their group of six.

What they found was that the students in the competitive half cheated much more (as detected by a 'spy' program). Interestingly, most of those who cheated were women. It would be easy to conclude that women cheat more, but they also noted that the women were poorer performers in this task, which perhaps says more about the design of the task than it does about women in general.

In further analysis the researchers found that those who were poorest performers cheated more and used a variety of methods. It was almost as if they thought 'if I can't be good at the task, I'll be good at cheating.' Would this be like criminals taking pride in their jobs? Well we all need self-esteem and maybe this is a way those who are made to feel inadequate can react.

Reference:
Schwieren, C., & Weichselbaumer, D. (2010). Does competition enhance performance or cheating? A laboratory experiment .Journal of Economic Psychology, 31 (3), 241-253


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