How Winning Changes Motivation in Multiphase Competitions

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Abstract

What drives motivation in multiphase competitions? Adopting a dynamic approach, this research examines how temporary standing—being ahead of (vs. behind) one’s opponent—in a multiphase competition shapes subsequent motivation. Six competitions conducted in the lab and in the field demonstrate that the impact of being ahead on contestants’ motivation depends on when (i.e., in which phase of the competition) contestants learn they are in the lead. In the early phase, contestants are concerned about whether they can win; being ahead increases motivation by making winning seem more attainable. In the later phase, however, contestants are instead driven by how much additional effort they believe they need to invest; being ahead decreases motivation by reducing contestants’ estimate of the remaining effort needed to win. Temporary standing thus has divergent effects on motivation in multiphase competitions, driven by a shift in contestants’ main concern from the early to the later phase and thus the meaning they derive from being ahead of their opponent. By leveraging insights gained from approaching individuals’ self-regulation as a dynamic process, this research advances understanding of how motivation evolves in a unique interdependent self-regulatory context.

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