Competitive behavior styles in adolescent friendships: the roles of context, gender, jealousy, and friendship bonds
This study explored competition in adolescent friendships by distinguishing between two distinct forms, one which is divisive and superiority-oriented and another in which competitors can both improve and excel together. This study sought to improve upon limitations of previous studies of competition, creating carefully varied task settings and observing adolescents in triads to test how differences in context and group characteristics might alter the nature and amount of competition between friends. In addition, the study considered the impact of participant sex, jealousy over friends, and closeness between friends on these competitive behaviors. Participants were 101 same-sex friendship triads observed interacting throughout a sequence of tasks with varied competitive incentives. Group behaviors were coded on four scales: 1. Competing to Win (i.e., competitive behavior driven by social comparison and demonstration of superiority), 2. Competing to Excel (i.e., competitive behavior focusing on effort and self-improvement), 3. Positive Affect, and 4. Negative Affect. Results revealed that competition styles were not related to one another and displayed varying levels across task settings. Affect was not directly related to competitive behavior, but Negative Affect was impacted by the competitiveness of the task itself. Gender differences were found in superiority-oriented competition and the relationship between affect and competitive tasks. Characteristics of the individuals in the triad, such as jealousy over the present friends or closeness and balance of the triad, did not have a strong influence on either competition or affect. Findings suggest that understanding competition between friends can be improved by carefully considering task parameters, studying friends in groups, and distinguishing different forms of competitive behavior.