Pyrrhic victories: The need for social status drives costly competitive behavior

Wouter Van Den Bos, Philipp J.M. Golka, David Effelsberg, Samuel M. McClure

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Competitive behavior is commonly defined as the decision to maximize one's payoffs relative to others. We argue instead that competitive drive derives from a desire for social status. We make use of a multi-player auction task in which subjects knowingly incur financial losses for the sake of winning auctions. First, we show that overbidding is increased when the task includes members of a rival out-group, suggesting that social identity is an important mediator of competitiveness. In addition, we show that the extent that individuals are willing to incur losses is related to affective responses to social comparisons but not to monetary outcomes. Second, we show that basal levels of testosterone predict overbidding, and that this effect of testosterone is mediated by affective responses to social comparisons. Based on these findings, we argue that competitive behavior should be conceptualized in terms of social motivations as opposed to just relative monetary payoffs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number00189
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue number7 OCT
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Affect
  • Competition
  • Cortisol
  • Minimal groups
  • Social status
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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