Women sprinters racingCompetitiveness is a measure of a person’s inclination to engage in competitions and to view pursuits as competitive ones. Competitiveness may also refer to evolutionary competition.

Competitiveness in Biology and Psychology

In biology, competition between organisms is a natural result of evolution. All organisms must compete for a limited number of resources, access to mates, and other factors that can affect survival, even though most organisms–including people– may be unaware that they are competing.

However, the psychological trait of competitiveness often has nothing to do with survival, although the tendency to compete might be a natural outgrowth of biological competition. Competitive people tend to enjoy challenges that pit them against another person or group and relish pursuits that allow them an opportunity to win or receive an objective assessment of their competence relative to other people. Healthy levels of competition can help improve self-esteem and increase enjoyment of life. However, obsessive competition may lead to perfectionism, chronic feelings of inadequacy, or mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Competitiveness and Personality

Competitiveness is often described as a personality trait. However, it is much less stable across the life span than traits such as neuroticism, introspection, and novelty-seeking. People may be competitive in some contexts but not others. For example, an excellent student may be driven to compete in spelling bees and essay contests but be unconcerned with trivia contests or athletic competitions.

Stress, environment, and socialization can also affect a person’s propensity toward competitiveness. A person might be more inclined to become competitive when he or she is interacting with an academic rival, a spouse’s ex, or other person who makes him or her feel threatened. In some cases, competition can provide an incentive for self-improvement.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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