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Competition is the rivalry of two or more parties over something. Competition occurs naturally between living organisms which coexist in the same environment. For example, animals compete over water supplies, food, and mates. In addition, humans compete for attention, wealth, prestige, and fame.

Competition can be remote, as in a free throw contest, or antagonistic, as in a standard basketball game. These contests are similar, but in the first one players are isolated from each other, while in the second one they are able to interfere with the performance of their competitors.

Competition gives incentives for self improvement. If two watchmakers are competing for business, they will lower their prices and improve their products to increase their sales. If birds compete for a limited water supply during a drought, the more suited birds will survive to reproduce and improve the population.

Rivals will often refer to their competitors as "the competition". The term can also be used as to refer to the contest or tournament itself.


The Latin root for the verb "to compete" is "competere", which means "to seek together" or "to strive together".[1] However, even the general definition stated above is not universally accepted. Social theorists, most notably Alfie Kohn (No Contest: The Case Against Competition [1986]), and cooperativists in general argue that the traditional definition of competition is too broad and too vague. Competition which originates internally and is biologically motivated can and should be defined as either amoral competition or simply survival instinct, behavior which is neither good nor bad but exists to further the survival of an individual or species (e.g., hunting), or behavior which is coerced (e.g., self-defense). Social Darwinists, however, state that competition is not only moral, but necessary to the survival of the species.

Sizes and levels

Competition may also exist at different sizes; some competitions may be between two members of a species, while other competitions can involve entire species. In an example in economics, a competition between two small stores would be considered small compared to competition between several mega-giants. As a result, the consequences of the competition would also vary- the larger the competition, the larger the effect.

In addition, the level of competition can also vary. At some levels, competition can be informal and be more for pride or fun. However, other competitions can be extreme and bitter; for example, some human wars have erupted because of the intense competition between two nations or nationalities.


Competition can have both beneficial and detrimental effects. Many evolutionary biologists view inter-species and intra-species competition as the driving force of adaptation and ultimately, evolution. However, some biologists, most famously Richard Dawkins, prefer to think of evolution in terms of competition between single genes, which have the welfare of the organism 'in mind' only insofar as that welfare furthers their own selfish drives for replication. Some social Darwinists claim (controversially) that competition also serves as a mechanism for determining the best-suited group, politically, economically, and ecologically.

On the negative side, competition can cause injury to the organisms involved, and drain valuable resources and energy. Human competition can be expensive, as is the case with political elections, international sports competitions, and advertising wars. It can lead to the compromising of ethical standards in order to gain an advantage; for example, several athletes have been caught using banned steroids in professional sports in order to boost their own chances of success or victory. And it can be harmful for the participants, such as athletes who injure themselves exceeding the physical tolerances of their bodies, or companies which pursue unprofitable paths while engaging in competitive rivalries.


While some sports, such as fishing, or hiking have been viewed as primarily recreational, most sports are considered competitive. The majority involve competition between two or more persons, (or animals and/or mechanical devices typically controlled by humans as in horse racing or auto racing). For example, in a game of basketball, two teams compete against one another to determine who can score the most points. While there is no set reward for the winning team, many players gain an internal sense of pride. In addition, extrinsic rewards may also be given. Athletes, besides competing against other humans, also compete against nature in sports such as whitewater kayaking or mountain climbing, where the goal is to reach a destination, with only natural barriers impeding the process. A regularly scheduled (such as annual) competition meant to determine the "best" competitor of that cycle is called a championship.

While professional sports have been usually viewed as intense and extremely competitive, recreational sports, which are often less intense, are considered a healthy option for the competitive urges in humans. Sport provides a relatively safe venue for converting unbridled competition into harmless competition, because sports competition is restrained. Competitive sports are governed by codified rules agreed upon by the participants. Violating these rules is considered to be unfair competition. Thus sports provide artificial not natural competition; for example, competing for control of a ball or defending territory on a playing field is not an innate biological factor in humans. Athletes in sports like gymnastics and competitive diving "compete" against a conceptual ideal of a perfect performance, which incorporates measurable criteria and standards which are translated into numerical ratings and scores.

Sports competition is generally broken down into three categories: individual sports, such as archery, dual sports, such as doubles tennis, or team sports competition, such as football. While most sports competitions are recreation, there exists several major and minor professional sports leagues throughout the world. The Olympic Games, held every four years, is regarded as the international pinnacle of sports competition.


Competition is a factor in education. On a global scale, national education systems, intending to bring out the best in the next generation, encourage competitiveness among students by scholarships. Countries like Singapore and England have a special education program which caters to special students, prompting charges of academic elitism. Upon receipt of their academic results, students tend to compare their grades to see who is better. For severe cases, the pressure to perform in some countries is so high that it results in stigmatization of intellectually deficient students or even suicide as consequence of failing the exams, Japan being a prime example (see Education in Japan). This has resulted in critical revaluation of examinations as a whole by educationists [How to reference and link to summary or text]. Critics of competition as opposed to excellence as a motivating factor in education systems, such as Alfie Kohn, assert that competition actually has a net negative influence on the achievement levels of students and that it "turns all of us into losers." (Kohn 1986)

Competitions also make up a large proponent of extracurricular activities in which students participate. Such competitions include TVO's broadcast Reach for the Top competition, FIRST Robotics, Duke Annual Robo-Climb Competition (DARC) and the University of Toronto Space Design Contest.

Biology and ecology

Main article: Competition (biology)

Competition within and between species is an important topic in biology, specifically in the field of ecology. Competition between members of a species ("intraspecific") is the driving force behind evolution and natural selection; the competition for resources such as food, water, territory, and sunlight results in the ultimate survival and dominance of the variation of the species best suited for survival. Competition is also present between species ("interspecific"). A limited amount of resources are available and several species may depend on these resources. Thus, each of the species competes with the others to gain the resources. As a result, several species less suited to compete for the resources may either adapt or die out. According to evolutionary theory, this competition within and between species for resources plays a critical role in natural selection. For example, a smaller tree will receive less sunlight from an adjacent tree which is larger than it in a rain forest. The larger tree is competing with the smaller one.

The study of competition

Competition has been studied in several fields, including psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Social psychologists, for instance, study the nature of competition. They investigate the natural urge of competition and its circumstances. They also study group dynamics to detect how competition emerges and what its effects are. Sociologists, meanwhile, study the effects of competition on society as a whole. In addition, anthropologists study the history and prehistory of competition in various cultures. They also investigate how competition manifested itself in various cultural settings in the past, and how competition has developed over time.


Main article: Competitiveness (personality)

Many philosophers and psychologists have identified a trait in most living organisms which drive the particular organism to compete. This trait, called competitiveness, is viewed as an innate biological trait which coexists along with the urge for survival. Competitiveness, or the inclination to compete, though, has become synonymous with aggressivity and ambition in the English language. More advanced civilizations integrate aggressivity and competitiveness into their interactions as a way to distribute resources and adapt. Most plants compete for higher spots on trees to receive more sunlight.

See also



  • Kohn, Alfie (1986). No Contest – The Case Against Competition, Boston New York London: Houghton Mifflin Co.. ISBN 0-395-63125-4.
  • find a competition [1]
  • Ryckman, R. M., Thornton, B., Butler, J. C. (1994). Personality correlates of the hypercompetitive attitude scale: Validity tests of Horney's theory of neurosis. Journal of Personality Assessment, 62, 84-94. [2]
  • Find a Competition [3]

External links

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