Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reflecting on Competition

So what about competition? Different reward networks are activated by competition (medial prefrontal cortex), than cooperation, and interestingly these areas are known to be important for self-awareness or self-reflection, and anticipated losses or gains. BTW, in the figures below, we flipped the loss-gain pictures to make it easier to show locations.



Competition can be a hot button issue for some in the educational community, but everyone faces some competition at some point, whether it's for attention, rewards, or basic life need. Competition can take on many forms in the classroom, home, or workplace, and it's clear that some people are more positively motivated by it than others. There are dangers of too much competition, but there are also helpful lessons to be learned as well.

From the biological perspective, it's interesting to see why competition may trigger self-reflection and more performance-monitoring. Competition brings out the best in some students because it helps them scrutinize their ability or weaknesses more critically, in addition to motivating them with possible rewards. Sometimes competition may just be needed in the beginning to help people discover what they may come to love without external rewards later.

"Healthy" competition may encourage persistence and the quest for "excellence", as well as leading to "domain-expertise" and future fulfilling hobbies or careers later. Success may also help students' talents be discovered by others, and provide practice at competition at state, national, and even the global levels. Healthy competition can indeed promote self-esteem, as well as provide experience and practice at good sportsmanship and resiliency. Among groups, competition is also helpful for fostering intragroup identity and cooperativity.

Monetary Outcomes and Medial Prefrontal Cortex
fMRI of Self-Reflection
fMRI of Competition and Cooperation
Competition in the Classroom
Using Debate in the Classroom

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