Competition and kinship

If you were told that you could enter a contest, but that if you lost the prize would go to a total stranger, you might just say “that’s nice, but I’m really busy right now.”

On the other hand, if losing the prize meant that it would go to one of your professional peers, you might be more motivated. In this case, your status among your peers might be affected by the outcome (this is quite dependent, of course, on the nature of the contest).

But suppose we move even closer to home. Suppose your rival for the prize was your brother, or your spouse, or one of your own children. In this case you might have a disincentive to win. You could very well be happier to see your child win the prize, rather than yourself.

These scenarios seem to point to an odd non-monotonic relationship between competition and kinship. When people are very distant from us, their effect on our competitive drive is essentially neutral. As they get closer, competition starts to increase, until at some point — when they are extremely close to us — it can suddenly flip and go negative.

I have a sense that this kind of relation (more or less an (x-σ)/(x+1)2 shaped curve) might show up a lot in quite a few contexts, from sociology to economics to biochemistry to astrophysics and beyond.

4 Responses to “Competition and kinship”

  1. sally says:

    How does your model account for Sibling Rivalry?

  2. admin says:

    I guess a somewhat nuanced answer could be that people form multiple kinship circles, each defined by context.

    Within a personal context, you might be closer to some family members than to others, since the “kinship horizon” doesn’t extend much beyond the family itself.

    Yet in a larger professional context, you and your siblings might be co-identified, and therefore disinclined to compete with each other.

  3. sally says:

    You might benefit from the work of my advisor Mike (Dr. Michael D. Fischer)

    Please enjoy a visit to the Kinship Algebra modeler:

    http://Kaes.anthrosciences.net/csac/SASci/kaes.tabs/Theory

  4. admin says:

    Wow, that’s very cool! I thank you affinally, though not consanguineously. :-)

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