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Winners more aggressive than losers, study says

Courtesy of MCT

In competition, winners have a tendency to act more aggressively to those they defeat than losers act toward winners, according to a new study.

“Winning induces a sense of power over others,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a communication professor at Ohio State.

There was reason to believe the results could have gone either way, Bushman said. Losers might be more aggressive due to a feeling of inferiority, and winners due to a feeling of superiority. The results showed the latter to be the case.

Bushman and his fellow researchers conducted three studies on the matter, one in the U.S. and two in France.

“If you do the same experiment in the same lab in the same country you can’t generalize as much,” Bushman said.

In the study, 103 American college students were told they were competing with a partner to complete two tasks.

In the first task, participants watched as shapes flashed on a computer screen. The image lasted for a fraction of a second, exactly 70 milliseconds. They were then asked to identify whether a dollar sign had been shown.

“They basically had to guess,” Bushman said. “So it was easy for us to tell them they did worse, or better, than their partner.”

After 80 trials, the students were told they received a score of 65. Half were informed they had done better than their partner, while the other half were informed they had performed worse.

“Everybody probably sucked,” Bushman said. “It was not an easy task to complete.”

The second task was a reaction time test, in which students were told that they and their partner were competing to press a button as quickly as possible. The loser would receive a blast of noise through their headphones. The winner decided the volume and length of the blast their partner received.

“It’s truly a great task because whatever feedback you give people is believable,” Bushman said.

The results found that people who won the first task tended to hit their partner with longer and louder noise than those who lost.

There was never a partner to be blasted or contested, nor was performance ever a consideration. Results were randomly assigned to individuals in the test.

The same study was then conducted in France two more times. One of the changes in the last study was the addition of a “control” group. This group was told that a computer malfunctioned and the results from the first task could not be told.

Each study ended with the same result: winners acted aggressively, while losers acted no different than those who had neither won nor lost.

The next step, Bushman said, is to study whether winners are more aggressive toward someone they don’t know. In the next study, during the second task some winners will be told that their competitor didn’t participate in the first task. Bushman hoped to find if winners remain aggressive against those they haven’t beaten.

“If the person (that they’re competing against) didn’t do the task, they shouldn’t have a feeling of superiority or inferiority,” Bushman said.

Daniel Caceres, a third-year in biology, said he thought the study made sense with what he has experienced.

“You kind of want to rub it in a little,” Caceres said. “At least for that moment, you’re better than them.”

Mike Walker, a third-year in business and member of the indoor soccer club, said the study didn’t conform with what he experienced playing sports. He said he’d never seen anyone gloat after a soccer win, and that both teams usually act respectfully.

“I’d go against that study,” Walker.

Online gaming, however, confirmed the study for Walker. He said matches with anonymous opponents online are different than in person.

“If you can’t see them, you can be as loud as you want,” Walker said.

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