How Competition Changes Our Behavior

Dianna Lesage
6 min readApr 11, 2020
This a global indicators dashboard that visualizes a subset of Johns Hopkins University.

As of April 11, 2020 there have been 102,517 deaths from Coronavirus worldwide. All of our hospitals are running out of critical personal protection equipment and lifesaving supplies. Experts are predicting there will be over 37 million jobs lost due to the challenges of these unprecedented times. Each day millions of people are competing against one another for survival, safety, and employment. This is a bleak picture, but one rooted in our new reality.

No one knows what the world will look like when the dust settles on this pandemic but we do know that many people are experiencing intense prolonged competition for the first time. If we are to predict the impact of the current situation on our future lifestyles, it is important to understand how competition shapes our mental models and actions.

The Biology of Competition

In evaluating the impact of anything, you need to be able to measure it. If we want to know how competition influences our decisions, we need the ability to measure the effects of competition.

According to an article published in The Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, the hormones known as Testosterone and Cortisol change greatly when a person is exposed to competition. In general, when in a competitive environment, both hormones rise to a level greater than their baseline.

The researchers from that study asked their subjects (48 males and 46 females) to play an experimental game. The participants first played the game with no competition and the researchers noted their baseline levels of Testosterone and Cortisol in addition to the types of choices the subjects made (risky/ neutral/risk-averse) during the game.

Next, the researchers had every participant play the same game but this time they added elements of competition. After playing, all of the participants had a higher level of Testosterone and Cortisol as compared to their baselines- but, when the researchers assessed the decisions made during this round of the game, they found that the males made riskier choices and the females made safer choices than they had in the first (non-competitive) round of the game.

The research suggests that although the same biological change is happening within the hormones- men and…

Dianna Lesage

Venture Studio expert. Creator capitalist. Lover of innovation.