Monday, April 5, 2010

Short / Long Term Effects Of Better Competition

Jonah Lehrer's article in the WSJ presents some counter-intuitive data: golfers tend to do worse when they go up against a great player like Tiger. Apparently, "whenever Mr. Woods entered a tournament, every other golfer took, on average, 0.8 more strokes." This and other one-shot experimental data goes against the common observation that competition increases performance. So how do we resolve the paradox?

Here's one explanation. In the short run (like one golf tournament), better competition makes us overly anxious, sometimes leading to paralysis by analysis. But in the long run this extra focus might make us better, because it forces us to take our games to the next level, assuming that we make it over the "dip." We come to expect the anxiousness in any given tournament and practice harder to overcome it. Any thoughts?