Picture a man competing in three bicycle races. One is where he rides solo for time. The second is where he uses a “pacer” to help him maintain a consistent speed. In the third race he races against other cyclists. Which of his times will be fastest?
Norman Triplett, believed by many to be the pioneer of sports social psychology, discovered that “competition” affects “performance.” Bluntly, you perform at a higher level when other people are present. He discovered that professional cyclists achieved faster times when racing against other riders. Their times increased when they were timed in solo events or used pacers.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous researchers who followed in Triplett’s wake received results that supported and debunked his conclusions. Sometimes people performed well when an audience was around, other times they failed miserably. It was Robert Zajonc (pronounced as Xyience) who came along and found that if you have no talent for a task your performance will decrease when an audience is present. On the other hand, it would increase if you were well acquainted with the task at hand.
In a oft cited study (Micheals et al), pool players were classified into two categories; below average and above average. Their games were observed with no audience present and then with four observers milling around. What they found was telling. The above average players scores increased when an audience was present while the below average players scores nose-dived.
Now for the twist!
We are all trying to excel at something. But how often do we put a spotlight on what we are trying to accomplish? Do we tell others what we are trying to do in order to establish accountability and to make sure we are doing our best? What about throwing our hats into the ring where we are forced to “bring it!” Competing and finding an audience may be an easy way to bring about improvement.
—– Sorry about that “bring it” reference.
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