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Does Competition Enhance Performance or Cheating? A Laboratory Experiment

  • Schwieren, Christiane


    (Heidelberg University)

  • Weichselbaumer, Doris


    (University of Linz)

In this paper we experimentally test whether competing for a desired reward does not only affect individuals’ performance, but also their tendency to cheat. Recent doping scandals in sports as well as forgery and plagiarism scandals in academia have been partially explained by “competitive pressures”, which suggests a link between competition and cheating. In our experiment subjects conduct a task where they have the possibility to make use of illegitimate tools to better their results. We find that women react much stronger to competitive pressure by increasing their cheating activity while there is no overall sex difference in cheating. However, the effect of competition on women’s cheating behavior is entirely due to the fact that women, on average, are doing worse with respect to the assigned task. Indeed we find that it is the ability of an individual to conduct a particular task and not sex that crucially affects the reaction to competition. Poor performers significantly increase their cheating behavior under competition which may be a face-saving strategy or an attempt to retain a chance of winning.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3275.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of Economic Psychology, 2010, 31 (3), 241-253
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3275
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  1. Antonovics, Kate & Arcidiacono, Peter & Walsh, Randall, 2003. "Competing Against the Opposite Sex," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt0kx2f7xq, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  2. Aldo Rustichini & Uri Gneezy, 2004. "Gender and competition at a young age," Framed Field Experiments 00151, The Field Experiments Website.
  3. Günther, Christina & Ekinci, Neslihan Arslan & Schwieren, Christiane & Strobel, Martin, 2010. "Women can't jump?--An experiment on competitive attitudes and stereotype threat," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(3), pages 395-401, September.
  4. Harbring, Christine & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2005. "How Many Winners Are Good to Have? On Tournaments with Sabotage," IZA Discussion Papers 1777, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Harbring, Christine & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2008. "How many winners are good to have?: On tournaments with sabotage," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 65(3-4), pages 682-702, March.
  6. Ian Preston, 2003. "Cheating in Contests," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(4), pages 612-624, Winter.
  7. Jordi Brandts & Arno Riedl & Frans van Winden, 2004. "Competition and Well-Being," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 04-041/1, Tinbergen Institute.
  8. Daniel S. Nagin & James B. Rebitzer & Seth Sanders & Lowell J. Taylor, 2002. "Monitoring, Motivation, and Management: The Determinants of Opportunistic Behavior in a Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 850-873, September.
  9. Christopher Cotton & Frank McIntyre & Joseph Price, 2009. "Gender Differences Disappear with Exposure to Competition," Working Papers 2010-11, University of Miami, Department of Economics.
  10. Christine Harbring & Bernd Irlenbusch & Matthias Kräkel & Reinhard Selten, 2004. "Sabotage in Asymmetric Contests – An Experimental Analysis," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse12_2004, University of Bonn, Germany.
  11. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Joe Kerkvliet & Charles L. Sigmund, 1999. "Can We Control Cheating in the Classroom?," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(4), pages 331-343, December.
  13. Benno Torgler & Neven T. Valev, 2006. "Women and Illegal Activities: Gender Differences and Women?s Willingness to Comply over Time," CREMA Working Paper Series 2006-15, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  14. Jeffrey Carpenter & Peter Hans Matthews & John Schirm, 2010. "Tournaments and Office Politics: Evidence from a Real Effort Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 504-17, March.
  15. List, John A, et al, 2001. "Academic Economists Behaving Badly? A Survey on Three Areas of Unethical Behavior," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(1), pages 162-70, January.
  16. repec:oup:qjecon:v:118:y:2003:i:3:p:1049-1074 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Nabanita Datta Gupta & Anders Poulsen & Marie Claire Villeval, 2005. "Male and Female Competitive Behavior - Experimental Evidence," Post-Print halshs-00180022, HAL.
  18. Martin, Ben R., 2007. "Keeping plagiarism at bay--A salutary tale," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 905-911, September.
  19. Nabanita Datta Gupta & Anders Poulsen & Marie Claire Villeval, 2005. "Male and Female Competitive Behavior: Experimental," Post-Print halshs-00175039, HAL.
  20. Antonio Cabrales & Gary Charness, 2006. "Competition, Hidden information, and Efficiency: an Experiment," Post-Print halshs-00142849, HAL.
  21. Vandegrift, Donald & Yavas, Abdullah, 2009. "Men, women, and competition: An experimental test of behavior," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 554-570, October.
  22. Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Does Competition Destroy Ethical Behavior?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 414-418, May.
  23. Gary A. Hoover, 2004. "Whose Line Is It? Plagiarism in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(2), pages 487-493, June.
  24. Joseph Price, 2008. "Gender Differences in the Response to Competition," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 61(3), pages 320-333, April.
  25. repec:oup:qjecon:v:122:y:2007:i:3:p:1067-1101 is not listed on IDEAS
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