What Makes Us Slow Down When We’re Ahead in the Race?

Picture yourself in a competition — a triathlon, say, or a gamified sales contest. Early on, you’re in the lead and feeling confident, which seems to make you try even harder. You hold your frontrunner status into the late stages, but then your motivation flags, you begin to underperform, and you run the risk of losing.

That’s a common mental sequence for competitors of all sorts, according to new research by Szu-chi Huang, an assistant professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and her collaborators Jordan Etkin of Duke University and Liyin Jin of Fudan University. The work, forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that in the early phase of competition, being in the lead boosts motivation by convincing the participant that winning is possible, while leading later in the contest actually decreases motivation by reducing the perceived amount of additional effort required to achieve victory.

Excerpted from gsb.stanford.edu

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