NEW YORK – As the NFL season kicks off with professional football’s oldest rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, research shows that the Bears’ trip to the playoffs last season is primed to have a big impact this year. Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, finds that rivalry is such a powerful motivator that its effects can leap beyond the confines of head-to-head matches and even impact motivation a year later.
“We’ve always known that a rival’s performance is an incredible motivating force and that their achievements can drive us to aim higher when we compete against our rivals. But our new finding is that this motivating force of our rival’s performance is so strong that it affects our performance when competing against other teams,” said Galinsky. “And here is what is really exciting: we found that a rival’s winning ways last season can predict how well your team will do the next season. And this effect is particularly strong when a rival wins the championship. So if you’re a Red Sox fan frustrated with this season, the Yankees drive for another World Series title could be a sign of good things to come next year.”
The study featured in Psychological Science and co-authored by Galinsky with Columbia doctoral student Brian Pike and NYU Stern School of Business Professor Gavin Kilduff, reveals that postseason performance of a focal team’s rival in one year predicted that focal team’s postseason performance the next year. The researchers developed their findings by examining the long-term effects of rivalry through archival analyses of postseason performances. The researchers studied multiple high-stakes leagues and teams including the NBA, NFL, MLB and the NHL, as well as NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams.
By examining thousands of possible scenarios and pairings over two non-consecutive seasons, their studies found that sports teams performed better in the playoffs or tournament when their rival performed well in the preceding year’s playoffs. Additional analyses suggested that a rival’s success at the highest level—winning the championship—especially motivated a team’s performance the following year.
These results establish that rivalry produces a long shadow: A rival team’s success exerts such a powerful motivational force that it drives performance outside of direct competition with one’s rival, even after a significant delay.
To read the study, click here: The Long Shadow of Rivalry: Rivalry Motivates Performance Today and Tomorrow.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Adam Galinsky is currently the chair of the Management Division and the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. Read more.