Are sporty people jealous?

Regular readers of this blog may have picked up on hints that I’m not a very sporty person. I don’t even really like watching sport. Sometimes when the sports news comes on, I switch channels and watch adverts until it’s over, because honestly, I find cleaning products marginally more interesting. The XKCD cartoon below explains my feelings on this much better than I can. I know admitting this makes me a social pariah. Readers who like sport, please do not judge me too harshly.

I couldn’t therefore help but feel a tinge of smugness when I read a recent working paper from Jeremy Celse at the University of Montpellier, who investigated the reactions of sporty people to unfavourable social comparisons. It turns out that sporty people get all competitive and react more negatively to unfavourable social comparisons, and would rather reduce other people’s income just to feel better about themselves.

What the paper doesn’t tell us is whether taking part in sport leads you to focus much more on how well you’re doing relative to other people, which then spills over into increased proneness to jealousy in general – or whether people prone to be jealous are more likely to take part in sport, perhaps because having a competitive streak makes you better at it.

You can read the full paper, “Damaging the perfect image of athletes: How sport promotes envy” here:

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7 Responses to Are sporty people jealous?

  1. i really find this quite interesting. More from your point of view, because i guess a sporty person is someone who competes to be the best. Yet an anti-sporty person should then be someone who shrinks away from competition but wants to collaborate instead.

    I find there is a deeper question here. Who wants to win the most, the sporty person surely, but maybe the non-sporty types want to win without competing. Who cares about where everyone ends up, the competitive person or the collaborative person?

    I wonder how organisations adapt and take advantage of this. Some want to use peer pressure to stimulate competition, others want a bunker mentality to stimulate collaboration.

    i look forward to reading the paper in a bit in order to reflect.

  2. Interesting point! I would be quite interested as to whether firms where competition between employees is strong tend to organise more sporty away-days and events for their staff.

  3. Sugel says:

    A separate study presented last month at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine showed that six weeks of bicycle riding or weight training eased symptoms in women who d received a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. via Lamenta- We explore the behavioural and affective differences between subjects practicing sport activities and subjects not practicing sport.

  4. vince says:

    One interesting point is the following: are envious persons competitive? (this would explain why envious persons practice sports)
    does sport competition turns people into envious?
    this paper focuses on investigating a connection between sport practice and envy but it does not precise the direction of that connection.
    any ideas?

    • Hi Vince,

      Interesting question which, as you say, this paper doesn’t answer. I haven’t seen any other research looking at this, but would be interested if any other readers have.

      There are probably some differences depending on the type of sport – for example, I’ve seen some studies that suggest that people who play team sports are more likely to be altruistic.

      • Vince says:

        I would probably confirm your saying : subjects practicing sport activities are more altruistic (pro social)
        but again I think it depends on the sport and the position occupied in the sport.
        do you have references on papers showing that sport team players are more prosocial

  5. Hi Vince,

    I wrote a blogpost a while ago about a paper which looked at envy and altruism in children – it found a link between team sports and altruism:

    I’m sure I’ve seen other papers as well though.

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