The competition-performance relation: a meta-analytic review and test of the opposing processes model of competition and performance

Psychol Bull. 2012 Nov;138(6):1035-70. doi: 10.1037/a0028324.


What is the relation between competition and performance? The present research addresses this important multidisciplinary question by conducting a meta-analysis of existing empirical work and by proposing a new conceptual model--the opposing processes model of competition and performance. This model was tested by conducting an additional meta-analysis and 3 new empirical studies. The first meta-analysis revealed that there is no noteworthy relation between competition and performance. The second meta-analysis showed, in accord with the opposing processes model, that the absence of a direct effect is the result of inconsistent mediation via achievement goals: Competition prompts performance-approach goals which, in turn, facilitate performance; and competition also prompts performance-avoidance goals which, in turn, undermine performance. These same direct and mediational findings were also observed in the 3 new empirical studies (using 3 different conceptualizations of competition and attending to numerous control variables). Our findings provide both interpretational clarity regarding past research and conceptual guidance regarding future research on the competition-performance relation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation
  • Reward