Interested in the science behind competition activities?

– Head of research Rasmus Friis explains

Competition grab it

Why do it?

  • A motivating factor for work tasks

  • Increases your ability to focus

  • Improves problem-solving skills

The science

Competition is a natural part of the development and survival of all species, related to Darwin’s survival of the fittest. People are motivated by competitive situations for different reasons. Overall, for some it is to improve their performance or perform well, and for some winning itself is the most important thing. The setting of the competition determines the individual motivation for engaging in the activity.

When motivated by competition and expecting to win and/or perform well the male body will release testosterone into the bloodstream. In the female body this could relate to estradiol. Ongoing research suggests that testosterone modulates aggressive behavior by increasing the feelings of threat and/or reward associated with aggression. 

Activating your brain’s threat system increases your ability to focus, which improves your problem-solving skills. Problem-solving is an ability that translate directly into result-oriented workstreams. Simultaneously activating the reward system of your brain will make you feel joyful and motivated to take on the task. This is called intrinsic motivation, and as a reward you get the feeling of competence and self-determination.

When doing competition exercises with specific time limitations, you practice your brain’s ability to quickly solve tasks, thereby increasing work efficiency and productivity.

Take-home message

  • When teams compete against each other, you’ll experience higher levels of task enjoyment and positive effects on work performance. 
  • Your perception of how well you perform during the competition is determinant of of the positive effects on your work efficiency and productivity.

Bedtime reading if you are a nerd like us

Franken R. E. & Brown, D. J. (1995). Why do people like competition? The motivation for winning, putting forth effort, improving one’s performance, performing well, being instrumental, and expressing forceful/aggressive behavior.  Person. individ. Diff: 19(2), pp. 175-184.

Geniole, S. N. & Carré J. M. (2018). Human social neuroendocrinology: Review of the rapid effects of testosterone. Hormones and Behavior; 104, pp. 192–205.

O’Donnell, J., Zeppenfeld, D., McConnell, E., Pena, S., & Nedergaard, M. (2012). Norepinephrine: a neuromodulator that boosts the function of multiple cell types to optimize CNS performance. Neurochemical research, pp. 2496-2512.

Tauer, J. M. & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2004). The Effects of Cooperation and Competition on Intrinsic Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 86(6), pp. 849–861.

Widmaier, E. P., Raff, H., & Strang, K. T. (2014). The Endocrine System. In E. P. Widmaier, H. Raff, & K. T. Strang, Vander’s Human Physiology – The Mechanisms of Body Function (pp. 319-361). New York: McGraw Hill.

Zouhal, H., Jacob, C., Delamarche, P., & Gratas-Delamarche, A. (2008). Catecholamines and the Effects of Exercise, Training and Gender. Sports Medicine, pp. 401-423.