On Rivalry and Goal Pursuit: Shared Competitive History, Legacy Concerns, and Strategy Selection

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Seven studies converge to show that prompting people to think about a rival versus a nonrival competitor causes them to view current competitions as more connected to past ones, to be more concerned with long-term legacy, and to pursue personal goals in a more eager, less cautious manner. These results are consistent with a social–cognitive view of rivalry that defines it as a competitive relational schema. A preliminary analysis revealed that people were more likely to appeal to past competitions to explain the importance of current rivalry than nonrivalry contests. Experiment 1 showed that people view rivalry versus nonrivalry competitions as more embedded in an ongoing competitive narrative and that this perception increases legacy concerns. The next 2 experiments used a causal chain approach to examine the possibility of legacy concerns acting as a mediator between rivalry and eagerness. Experiment 2a demonstrated that longer (vs. shorter) competitive histories are associated with increased legacy concerns. Experiment 2b manipulated legacy concerns and found that this shifted regulatory focus toward eagerness. Finally, 3 experiments tested the direct effect of thinking about a rival on eager strategy selection: Thinking about rivals (vs. nonrivals) led people to be more interested in offensive than defensive strategies (Experiment 3), to initiate rather than delay their goal pursuit (Experiment 4), and to rely on spontaneous rather than deliberative reasoning (Experiment 5). We suggest that rivalries affect how people view their goals and the strategies they use for pursuing them, and that these effects are at least partially attributable to the shared history between individuals and their rivals.

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