Gender Competition: a Test Between Sexes
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
BURNSIDES, S. R. (1999). Gender Competition: a Test Between Sexes. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Gender Competition: a Test Between Sexes
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
Competition happens between individuals every day. Which gender you are may make a difference in how much you compete and how you compete. This study looks not at only which gender competes more, but if people compete more within their gender or outside it. It is found that men compete more than women, as history would suggest, but that there is no significance to who they compete more against. To test the hypothesis subjects were asked to put their hand in ice cold water. Subjects were paired with either their same gender or opposite gender. It was left up to the subjects whether or not the pairing would arouse competitiveness in them. The amount of time the subjects left their hand in the ice water was the definition used to measure the amount of competition felt. A one way ANOVA was conducted to see if one gender competes more and who they compete more against. It is shown that the hypothesis is right, males compete more but there is no significance to whom they compete more against.


A large body of knowledge indicates the competitive nature of human beings is more prevalently found in males. The General rule is American males are simply trained to win; however over the last few decades women have been urged to compete and to accept competitiveness as appropriate and even healthy (Kohn, 1992). The question is has the push for more competition in women made them as competitive as men? Reasons that support the hypothesis that men compete more than women are numerous. The fact that men and women sometimes fall into their stereotyped roles allows men to be more aggressive and competitive. Men historically have been the head of the household, in more authoritative positions, and in more competitive sport worlds. Women were expected to stay home with the kids, vote as their husband did, and cook as the men watched the big game. Women now are in careers that at one time men dominated. Women are also becoming involved in politics. A few years ago one would have laughed at the possibility of a woman presidential candidate, but now the rumors of one is not surprising. The creation of the Women’s National Basketball Association has launched women into the sport spotlight another area dominated by men.In the sport world the media may play a role in supporting the competitiveness of one gender over the other. According to Crawford and Marovelli (1987) the amount of coverage of male sports compared to female sports greatly influenced the number of athletes recognized. The greater amount of coverage for male sports may send a message to females that male competitiveness is accepted more than female competitiveness.A large amount of research has been done to find whether or not competitive trait anxiety does one good or bad. Like all stress a little is necessary to perform well. Too much will likely hurt performance. Life stress may be a useful predictor of athletic performance (Blumenthal, Fisher & Glenwick, 1986). Someone who has a lot of stress in their life may not perform well athletically, at work, or in their relationships. The same can be said for someone who is highly competitive. The competition may cause an adverse effect on how they perform.Passer (1983) wanted to look at fear of failure, fear of evaluation, perceived competence and self-esteem as they relate to competitive trait anxiety. Passer used male youth soccer players as his subjects. As predicted those youths experiencing high amounts of competitive anxiety expected to play worse, experience greater shame, upset, and more frequent criticisms from parents and coaches in the event of poor performance. If the youths were worried about shaming themselves in front of everyone the likelihood of their competitiveness to be high is elevated. The elevation of the competitive anxiety may cause what they fear to be reality, poor performance.Many studies have looked at competition cross-culturally. The idea many researches look at in different cultures is if collectivistic cultures compete less than individualistic cultures like the United States of America. Erez and Earley (1987) examined U.S. students, Israeli urban students, and Israeli students from kibbutzim. The two groups of Israeli students come from collectivistic culture, one stronger than the other. The study showed that all groups had a higher goal acceptance and performance when they were able to participate in the making of the strategy. Culture did not have an effect on this, but it did appear to moderate the strategy performance for goals that were very difficult. This study did not support the idea that culture makes a difference in the competition level of an individual.The purpose of this study is to help find an answer to the question of who competes more males or females. Not only does this study look at which gender competes more, but also if people compete more against their own gender or their opposite gender. This study hopes to be able to generalize its results to different aspects of life including, athletic competition, work competition, and relationship competition.


The participants in this study are college students who attend Missouri Western State college in Saint Joseph, Missouri. There are at least 20 females and 20 males used in the experiment. Most subjects were taken from lower level psychology classes.

Metal stock pots were used to hold the ice water for the cold presser test. Salt was added to the water to make it as cold as possible. Stop watches, of the same brand, were utilized to keep the time. Towels were available for the subjects when they removed their hand from the cold water.

Subjects were asked to enter a room and sit by one of two stock pots. Subjects were asked to immerse one hand into the water above the wrist. The experimenter started a stop watch for each participant at the time their hands went in the water. Subjects were told they may sit or stand to their comfort and that they may remove their hand at any time from the water. The researcher stopped the stop watch for each subject when they removed their hand. Subjects were timed in groups of two. The groups were the experimental conditions. The three different conditions were male versus male, female versus female or male versus female.


A 2X2 ANOVA was conducted to see if one gender competes more than the other and which gender they compete more against, same or opposite. The test shows that men (210 seconds and 130 seconds) compete significantly more than females (92 seconds and 118 seconds), but the condition they were in did not effect the time. In other words men generally competed more than females, but there was no difference in how they competed when paired with same or opposite sex.


The study showed a significant main effect for gender related to competition. The study failed to support any effect caused by the gender pairings. Although there was not significance found by the different conditions the results are well worth exploring further. If the study had a larger sample size the results may very well have been significant. The fact that males competed more in the study further support the literature on gender competition.Limitations to this study included a small sample size with no randomization. Pain threshold may have greatly influenced whether subjects held their hand in the water very long or not. The study contained small subject bias with few subjects trying to guess at the reason to the study. The study could be followed up with several similar designs. In the previous study the subjects were not told they were competing against each other. If subjects were told they are competing against each other they may try hard to compete. Audience effect could also be examined. Subjects may try harder when a group of people are watching than when it is just the experimenter and one other subject. Other ways of measuring competition could also be used that may not have as many extraneous variables like pain threshold.The results of a study like the previous may be generalized to sport competition, competition in the work place, and everyday competition. If significance was found in gender competition, the results could be utilized as a strong motivator. If a person works harder when they feel they are competing against the opposite sex, a employer could use this information to get the best from their employees.The best part of this experiment is not the results it found, but the further research it may produce. Gender competition is something that interest and effects the public. Continued research on this subject is therefore very worthwhile. The fact that men competed more was not surprising. The fact that men tended to compete more against women was not surprising. The fact that women tended to give up easier when matched with men was surprising and very interesting. This maybe because of the societal belief that men are suppose to be more competitive and aggressive than women. The subjects may have been supporting a belief system. It would be interesting to do the same experiment in a different culture where men are seen as dominant to women. That societal belief may cause the women to give up even sooner. With a subject like gender competition the possibilities for further research are endless.

ReferencesBluemthal, R.S., Fisher, C.B., & Glenwick, D.S. (1986). Subliminal oedipal stimuli and competitive performance: An investigation of between-groups effects and mediating subject variables. Journal-of -Abnormal- Psychology, 95, 292-294.Crawford, S.A., & Marovelli, E. (1987). Mass media influence on female high school athletes’ identification with professional athletes. International-Journal-of -Sport-Psychology,18, 231-236.Erez, M., & Earley, C.P, (1987). Comparative analysis of goal-setting strategies across cultures. Journal-of-A+pplied-Psychology,72, 658-665Kohn, A. (1992). No Contest: The Case Against Competition. NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.Passer, M.W., (1983). Fear of failure, fear of evaluation, perceived competence, and self-esteem in competitive-trait-anxious children. Journal-of-Sport-Psychology,5, 172-188.

Submitted 12/2/99 10:36:30 PM
Last Edited 12/2/99 10:55:53 PM
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