The effect of competitive and cooperative contexts on comparative optimism

Aurélie Krzeminski, Isabelle Milhabet, Georges Schadron
Published Online:
04 Dec 2020

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Several common characteristics are shared by competition and comparative optimism; and comparative optimism has often been observed in competitive environments like entrepreneurial fields or areas that require skills. Competitive context could be an explanatory factor for comparative optimism neglected to date. The aim of this article is to test the links between competition (vs. cooperation) and comparative optimism. In Study 1, participants in different academic majors with a more or less competitive nature (respectively, medical studies and human sciences studies) answered questions about their future and that of others. In Study 2, for the participants in the less competitive course of study (human sciences studies), we presented their studies as being either competitive or cooperative. The impact of this context was tested as a function of the closeness or distance between the participants and the comparison targets. The results of both studies showed that competition increased the expression of comparative optimism. In Study 2, this effect emerged more when the comparison target was distant than when it was close, with proximity hindering the competitive relationship between the self and others. The feeling of competition with others contributed to a better understanding of comparative optimism and initiated new explanations for its emergence.

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