By Brianne Moore
Most of us are taught in childhood to be gracious winners, but according to researchers from Ohio State University, that lesson isn’t really sinking in. Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State found that those who outperformed others on a competitive task tended to act more aggressively towards those who performed worse. The losers’ behavior towards the winners was much less aggressive, suggesting people at least know how to lose gracefully.
Bushman, along with three colleagues from a university in Paris, conducted three studies to find out if winners or losers tended to be more aggressive. In the first study, 100 American college students were told they’d be competing against a partner on two tasks (the partner didn’t actually exist). After the first task was finished, half the students were told they did better than their nonexistent partner and the rest were told they did worse.
The second task was designed to measure aggression. Participants were told to push a button as fast as possible, and whoever was slower would receive a blast of noise through headphones. The faster pusher would decide how loud the noise would be and how long it would last. The students who “won” the first challenge tended to blast their partners much longer and louder than those who lost.
Two follow-up studies involving French students showed similar results—winners were meaner to losers than losers were to the winners. According to Bushman, the takeaway from this is that “losers need to watch out.”
So, are winners just more aggressive in general, or only toward those they defeat? Apparently, that’s a study for another day…