Competing with the stars

Isn’t it wonderful to have role models around? Superstars in your firm that you can aspire to emulate! Well, maybe… Jennifer Brown recently published a paper suggesting that the presence of superstars in a competition actually decreases the effort that everyone else puts in to win. She uses data from Tiger Woods’ period of domination in professional golf to test the hypothesis that rivals will optimally put in less effort when playing Woods and finds:

  1. The presence of a superstar in a tournament reduced performance from other competitors, particularly the ones closest to Woods in skill.
  2. Reduced performance isn’t attributable to players closest to Woods adopting risky strategies in an attempt to beat him.
  3. The effect varies depending upon Woods recent success and how far ahead of his rivals he is perceived to be.

So, in a competition where only one person can win and there is somebody obviously head-and-shoulders above the rest, most others won’t put in much effort to win. It seems intuitively obvious but it’s always nice to have a bit of empirical evidence to back up your intuitions, especially when its a golfing example perfectly packaged for dinner-table trivia 😛