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One would logically conclude that when faced with competition, a student or businessman would try harder. But a new study carried out by the University of Haifa and the University of Michigan (UM) has found that motivation and performance is weakened when you're up against a large group of people. In fact, the larger the number of examinees, the lower the average grade.
"It is well established that subjective factors influence our motivation to compete. Our new studies have shown that objective factors, such as the size of a competing group, also have an effect," explains Dr. Avishalom Tor from the University of Haifa's Faculty of Law.
The series of studies which Tor carried out with Dr. Stephen Garcia of UM were designed to examine whether a large number of participants in a competition would affect the performance of the individual competitor even when the number does not influence the anticipated value of winning. "The results of this study have relevance in almost all areas of life. They shed light on the issue of classroom size, as smaller classes would improve student motivation to 'compete' and to strive for better achievements. The findings also affect the workplace; salespersons working in large warehouses, for example, would be lower achievers than those working in small groups," Tor concluded.
The first study investigated grades from the US Scholastic Aptitude Test for university entrance. The scientists divided the number of examinees in each state by the number of sites where the test was held to determine the average number of examinees per site. The researchers took into consideration differences among the states in socioeconomic variables, finding that the lower the average number of students being examined, the higher the average score.
Seeing as it is difficult to make assumptions based on averages calculated at a state level, a second and more focused study was carried out. This time, the results were gathered from a psychological test known as the Cognitive Reflection Test, which was taken by 1,383 students at UM. The data were assembled from 22 different sittings of the same test over the course of three years, when it was known not only how many students were taking the test at each session but also their individual grades and demographic variables. This individual-level data similarly showed that the fewer the examinees at a specific session, the higher the average results.
A third study consisted of a controlled survey. The experiment asked 74 students to take a short, timed quiz when sitting alone. Half the students were told they belonged to a group of 10 students taking the quiz, while the other half were told there were 100 examinees in total; the first 20 percent to complete the test - without compromising the accuracy of their answers - would be given $5, they were informed. The results showed that students who thought they were competing against nine others completed their tests significantly faster than those who thought they were competing against 99.
SCIENCE ACADEMY BOLSTERED
Three eminent scientists have been added as new members to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, bringing the total complement to 99 men and women. They are Prof. Oded Abramsky, Prof. Yosef Loya and Prof. Avraham Nitzan. The academy - the government's official adviser on science and promote of scientific research - is now marking its 50th anniversary.
Prof. Abramsky, the longtime neurologist at the Hadassah University Medical Center and now head of the Israel Council for Scientific Research and Development, is an expert in autoimmune brain diseases. Loya, born in Bulgaria, graduated from Tel Aviv University and is an expert in ecology and evolution. Prof. Nitzan studied chemistry at the Hebrew University and teaches at Tel Aviv University.
All three have won many prizes in their fields.
SOUTH KOREA & ISRAEL WILL COOPERATE MORE
Scientific cooperation between Israeli and South Korean researchers is expanding, especially among younger ones, the Science and Technology Ministry has announced. It is often more difficult for less-experienced scientists to get research grants. An Israeli delegation returned recently from Seoul after having signed an agreement to expand cooperation between the two countries that began in 1994. It was the first time that younger scientists were included after five cycles of joint research using more experienced ones, the ministry said. It was also decided that two research projects of the seven that have been going on will continue, while the other five will be new, each with a $250,000 budget, possibly relating to semiconductors.
SOME HORMONAL BEHAVIOR IS SUBJECTIVE
The predominantly male hormone testosterone is commonly believed to make males belligerent. But University of Zurich researchers, including Israeli citizen Daniela Schiller, say it induces antisocial behavior in humans "only because of our own prejudices about its effect." A study published recently in Nature finds that, in fact, the biological effect is that testosterone increases fairness.
Hormones are known to modulate social interactions. Prof. Ernst Fehr and colleagues used a bargaining game in which women volunteers were given either a single dose of testosterone or a placebo. Those that received testosterone behaved more fairly, had fewer bargaining conflicts and were better at social interactions. However, women who thought they had received testosterone, whether or not they actually did, behaved more unfairly than those who thought they received placebo. So, the negative, antisocial connotation of increasing testosterone levels seems to be strong enough to induce negative social behavior even when the biological result is actually the opposite.