Get access

Hiding effort to gain a competitive advantage: Evidence from China


  • Li Zhao,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institutes of Psychological Sciences, Hangzhou Normal University, Hangzhou, China
    2. Zhejiang Key Laboratory for Research in Assessment of Cognitive Impairments, Hangzhou, China
    • Correspondence should be addressed to: Li Zhao, Institutes of Psychological Sciences, Hangzhou Normal University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang 311121, China. (E-mail:

    Search for more papers by this author
  • Gail D. Heyman

    1. Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA
    2. Department of Psychology, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China
    Search for more papers by this author


Previous studies with Western populations have shown that adolescents' tendency to downplay their academic effort is affected by two kinds of motives: ability-related motives (e.g., to appear competent) and social approval motives (e.g., to be popular). In this research, we test for the presence of additional competition-related motives in China, a culture placing strong emphasis on academic competition. Study 1 (N = 150) showed that, in response to a scenario in which a hard-working high-school junior hid effort from classmates, the most highly endorsed explanation was “to influence others to work less hard to maintain a competitive advantage.” Study 2 (N = 174) revealed that competition-related explanations were endorsed relatively more often when the speaker and audience had similar academic rankings. This tendency was most evident when both speaker and audience were top performers, and when this was the case, participants' desire to demonstrate superiority over others was a positive predictor of endorsement of competition-related motives. Study 3 (N = 137) verified that competition-related motives were more strongly endorsed among Chinese participants than U.S. participants. These results suggest that at least in cultures that emphasize academic competition and in contexts where competition is salient, hiding effort is often about attempting to gain strategic advantage.