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Rivals with Benefits: Friendly Rivals Motivate Without Encouraging Unethical Behavior
Research shows that people are more motivated and perform better against rivals than non-rival competitors. However, people also behave less ethically towards rivals. We tried to harness rivalry’s benefits without incurring its costs by framing rivals as people who help you grow through competitions against them (“friendly rivals”). We predicted that friendly rivals would enhance motivation and performance without encouraging unethical behavior (vs. non-rival competitors). Our studies support these hypotheses. Participants reported being more motivated and performing better against friendly rivals than non-rival competitors (Study 1) and exhibited greater motivation and performance in realistic competitions after recalling friendly rivals than non-rival competitors (Studies 3 and 4). However, participants were not more willing to use unethical negotiation strategies against (Study 2) or assign unsolvable problems to (Studies 3 and 4) friendly rivals than non-rival competitors. Our results provide preliminary evidence of the motivational benefits of reframing rivalry in a growth-oriented manner.