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The Olympics is a public spectacle of competitiveness – but what drives this type of behaviour?
Medical Xpress report that “Dr Kristin Hillman and Professor David Bilkey, both from the Department of Psychology, have found that neurons in a specific region of the frontal cortex, called the anterior cingulate cortex, become active during decisions involving competitive effort. The researchers have discovered that neurons in this region appear to store information on whether a course of action demands competition, what the intensity of that competition will be, and critically, whether or not the competition is ‘worth it’ to achieve an end reward.
Their study, which appears online today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, is the first to examine how competitive behaviour is encoded by neurons in the brain. The researchers used a novel experimental set-up for rats which mimics cost-benefit decisions that we humans face every day: do I choose option A which has a small but easily achievable reward, or do I choose option B which, although it provides the prospect of a larger reward, requires me to compete against a peer? They found that in foraging rats, certain cortical neurons became more active when competitive scenarios like option B were considered and pursued. Dr Hillman says the activity of these neurons appeared to encode when it was worth competing and when it was too risky. For example, when up against a highly motivated or physically dominant competitor, a rat’s neural activity patterns changed markedly, she says.”
Whilst the results of this study cannot be fully compared to human motivations and behaviour– I thought it was a decent (or tenuous) segue into asking everyone how competitive you think you are? The medical profession, and certainly medical school has a reputation for competitiveness but do you actually see yourself as being competitive?
You may also be interested in a previous discussion on competitiveness in medical students a.k.a "gunners"