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Re: [evol-psych] Article: we all want to win - or do we?

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  • Harie Heyligen
    Born to lose? Anjana Ahuja (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7-2335173_1,00.html) We all want to win - or do we? New research indicates that some of us
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2006

      Born to lose?

      Anjana Ahuja

      We all want to win — or do we? New research indicates that some of us are sheep not wolves

      There are certain things in life that are so obvious as to be beyond question. Among them is the belief that everybody loves winning and, conversely, that everybody hates losing. At the enjoyable end of the victory spectrum is the sheer exhilaration of crossing the ribbon first, coming top of the class or spraying champagne from the podium; at the other end lies that depressing, kicked-in-the-guts ache of being a straggler, a nearly-ran and, yes, a loser.

      But some people, it seems, are perfectly happy to be losers. Psychologists at the University of Michigan have discovered that while some people become stressed after losing out to a rival in a laboratory task, others become stressed out after winning. The research challenges the widely held belief that the will to win is a universal human desire.

      “This runs counter to the idea that everybody likes coming out at the top of the heap,” says Oliver Schultheiss, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who oversaw the study. “That’s a really surprising finding for us.”

      Professor Schultheiss concludes that people can be split into wolves, who are utterly driven to win and devastated at losing out, and sheep, whose triumphs over others bring distress rather than fist-pumping elation. Lance Armstrong, the record-breaking Tour de France winner, is the embodiment of a wolf; Estelle Morris, who forfeited her position as Education Secretary because she did not “feel up to the job”, could be suspected of ovine tendencies.

      How to separate the wolves from the sheep? Professor Schultheiss and his colleagues first used a test to assess the motivations of 108 college students. They were asked to look at various photographs — such as a picture of two cyclists racing next to each other — and write a description of what they saw. The resulting script was used to deduce the participant’s “implicit power motivation”, which is defined as a subconscious need to dominate others.

      Wolves are more likely to have written a scenario in which the cyclists were competing aggressively; sheep might have perceived a gentler relationship between the riders. Those with the highest scores — the greatest need to be top dog — were deemed wolves, and those at the low end were termed sheep.

      The next stage in the experiment was to pair up participants and set them a task, to be repeated ten times. The task involved pressing keys in response to asterisks appearing on the screen. The students were told that one person would be judged the winner on the basis of speed and accuracy. The results, in fact, were rigged. Each “winner” was told that they had won eight out of the ten rounds, with their victory announced on screen accompanied by a jingle. Before and after the experiments, saliva samples were taken, in order to gauge levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

      When wolves — the top dogs who like to have an impact on others — lost, their cortisol levels rose, as expected. What was unexpected was that the sheep showed a rise after winning. “Maybe, for these people (sheep), winning is unexpected and perhaps a little scary,” says Dr Michelle Wirth, a colleague of Professor Schultheiss and a co-author. The rise in cortisol could result from winning being a novel experience; being cast in unfamiliar situations tends to result in a stress response. The participants in each pair were strangers, which she admits might have added another layer of unease.

      Dr Wirth does not know whether sheep consciously feel stressed, because, when psychologists ask people whether they prefer to win or lose, everyone says that they’d rather win. Similarly, people are not always conscious of where along the power motivation spectrum they sit. “If you ask people whether they like being in a position of power, they usually say no,” she says. “It’s a non-conscious personality trait.” Dr Wirth believes that knowing which category you fall in — wolf or sheep — can bring benefits. “If you can figure out which one you are, you can tailor your working environment to suit that. There are some people who get pleasure and satisfaction from being in positions of power, and there are others who are less comfortable dominating others.”

      Dr Adrian Atkinson, the chairman of Human Factors International, a consultancy advising in business psychology, indicates that the results are more complex than Dr Wirth suggests. First, he says, power motivation is linked intimately with personality type. Wolves are likely to be highly competitive and to be driven by a need to achieve. Sheep are relatively uncompetitive and do not feel this compulsion to achieve.

      Dr Atkinson says: “The explanation could be more to do with the perceived consequences of winning than winning itself. Winning increases uncertainty, because people think, ‘So, what now? What will be expected of me?’ Competitive people with a high need for achievement like this uncertainty. More deferential people who do not like conflict may find this uncertainty stressful.” Dr Atkinson also suggests that it could be the sudden attention associated with a win, rather than the win itself, that triggers the cortisol response: “Suddenly, these people are in the limelight, put on a pedestal. And that’s one place these people don’t want to be. They are being singled out, and that could be the cause of the stress they experience.”

      He says that this could explain why so many people have taken to playing poker online, especially women. They can win, without being seen to win. “The internet provides a non-threatening situation for those who are low on either competitiveness or need for achievement,” he says. “This amounts to about 30 per cent of the population.”

      Dr Wirth admits that it is possible that the attention generated by winning might be part of the effect. “People with high power motivation like to be the centre of attention, so it would make sense that not winning is stressful,” she says. “But there really is something going on here, with this group of people (sheep) put in this particular situation. A dominance success is stressful for low-power individuals, whereas a social defeat is stressful for high-power individuals.”

      Professor Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at Lancaster University and a specialist in business psychology, says that there is likely to be a strong gender split between sheep and wolves, with more women than men being sheep: “It’s not that women hate winning but they don’t mind losing. They are usually focused on more important things, such as the health and wellbeing of their family, and are able to contextualise losing. Men are more work-focused and achievement-oriented. Men are conditioned by society to win — it’s a vestigial part of their behaviour that they haven’t let go, which is rather sad. If men were rational, which they are not, they’d realise that they don’t need to compete all the time.”


      from: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7-2335173_2,00.html


      Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health atLancaster University , has designed the following quiz to help to determine whether you are a wolf or a sheep. Simply add up the numbers next to the categories that best describe how you would feel in the situation. For example, if you strongly agree with the first statement, score 4.

      A I get really wound up when my sports team loses.

      1 strongly disagree (SD);
      2 disagree (D); 3 agree (A);
      4 strongly agree (SA)

      B I really hate it when I go to a meeting to seek approval for a decision and approval is not forthcoming.

      1 SD, 2 D, 3 A , 4 SA

      C If I was in a charge of a budget and it was cut, I would willingly accept it.

      4 SD, 3 D, 2 A , 1 SA

      D You choose a fixed-rate mortgage and, a month later, interest rates are cut. This doesn’t bother you.

      4 SD, 3 D, 2 A , 1 SA

      E You are interviewed for a job and fail to make the final shortlist. You feel gutted for weeks.

      1 SD, 2 D, 3 A , 4 SA

      F You compete with a work colleague for a promotion. You hear on the grapevine that your competitor has got it. It doesn’t worry/bother you.

      4 SD, 3 D, 3 A , 1 SA

      G When you’re in social situations and individuals are dominating the conversation, this frustrates you.

      1 SD, 2 D, 3 A , 4 SA

      H At your office party, your spouse/partner makes a lighthearted remark about your lack of competence at domestic chores. You would feel hurt.

      1 SD, 2 D, 3 A , 4 SA


      8-15: You are a sheep. You don’t hate winning, but when you do lose, it doesn’t baa-ther you.

      16-24: You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For you, winning is more important in some aspects of life (eg, work) than in others (eg, relationships).

      25-32: You are a wolf. You have a howl-at-the-moon obsession with winning at everything.


      You are more likely to be a wolf if . . .

      You get a thrill from cracking a joke;

      You like to help or influence other people, especially if gratitude is shown;

      You enjoy eliciting reactions from others.

      Typical wolf professions:
      Politicians, teachers, stand-up comedians.

      You are more likely to be a sheep if . . .

      You prefer hearing jokes to telling them;

      You shy away from positions of dominance or authority;

      You don’t like being the centre of attention.

      Typical sheep professions:
      Office workers, researchers, accountants.

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