Winning isn't everything: Guilt proneness and competitive vs. non-competitive motivation

Uriel Haran, Dina Van Dijk, Michal Barina, Mor Krief, Stav Rosenzweig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Guilt proneness is associated with both high motivation to succeed and enhanced concern for others. However, in competition, achieving success requires harming others' interests, which demotivates guilt-prone individuals. Given the prevalence of competition in social and professional life, we examine the relation between guilt proneness, general motivation, and competitive motivation. Method: Two experiments and two laboratory studies (N = 1735) measured guilt proneness, general motivation, and competitive motivation, and their effects on competitive preferences and choices. Study settings included students' choice of playing a game individually vs. competitively (Study 1), physicians' likelihood to seek residency in medical fields characterized by high competitiveness (Study 2), amateur athletes' preferences between inclusive and win-oriented team strategies (Study 3), and online workers' evaluations of a hypothetical scenario (Study 4). Results: Guilt proneness was related positively to general motivation, but negatively to competitive motivation. Guilt proneness, indirectly through lower competitive motivation, predicted a lower likelihood of pursuing competitive paths and preference for non-competitive strategies. Emphasizing prosocial aspects of competitiveness attenuated these effects. Conclusions: Guilt proneness is related to high general motivation but to a lower desire to win. Guilt-prone individuals strive for excellence, but through non-competitive paths, whereas people with lower guilt proneness prefer competing.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)457-479
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Personality
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2024


  • competition
  • guilt proneness
  • motivation
  • prosociality

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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