Ever stepped off the treadmill, grabbed a towel, and started heading for the showers—before noticing the guy who beat you in last week’s 5k race and deciding to go another half-hour? You’re probably not alone.
In a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers have found that rivals can push us to higher levels of performance. To find this, conducted two experiments. In the first, they asked people online what kind of factors lead to rivalries. Answer: similar ages and genders, repeated competition, and close results. Researchers then took these factors and used them to identify rivalries at a US running club by examining three years of race data, though they also found that runners were pretty ready, without prompting, to report rivalries.
Researchers then followed the club over the subsequent three years to track how rivalries developed and how the performances of rival pairs changed over time. In races featuring rivals, runners ran faster than they did in races without their rivals. According to author Dr. Gavin Kilduff,
“How we behave in competition situations depends on our relationship and history of interaction with our opponent. This suggests that we may be able to boost our own levels of motivation and performance by either forming rivalries or harnessing the ones we already have. It might also get us to think about whether other individuals in our lives may view us as their rivals.”