Escalation of Competition Leads to Conflict in Competitive Networks of F1 Drivers
(Professor Wonjae Lee at the Graduate School of Culture Technology)
A new study has revealed that people with
similar social status in similar age groups are more likely to clash with each
other. This rivalry could likely lead to taking more risks in fair weather
Competition, while is often seen as
beneficial, can escalate into destructive conflict. This occurs, for instance,
when athletes sabotage each other or when rival executives get caught up in a
career-derailing fight. These escalations, which lead to conflict, are
especially likely among similar-status competitors, who are fraught with
discordant understandings of who is superior to whom.
A research team of KAIST, the US Treasury,
INSEAD, and the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) examined
the link between status similarity and conflict as well as the conditions under
which this link holds by using panel data on Formula 1 races from 1970 through
2014. For the study, the research team analyzed a total of 506 collision cases
by 355 F1 drivers over 45 years.
The team found that similar-status F1
drivers are more prone to collide, especially when they are age-similar,
performing well, and feeling safe. When these boundary conditions are met,
structural equivalence likely triggers antagonism among interactants.
This research deepens the understanding of
when violent conflict emerges and when prevention efforts are called for. Professor
Lee from the Graduate School of Culture Technology at KAIST said, “People are
not sure about their identity when facing competitors of a similar status. People
tend to confirm their own stature by beating an opponent.”
The team investigated the factors that escalate
competition into dangerous conflict. Recently, sociological theorizing claims
that such escalations are particularly likely in pairs of structurally
equivalent actors who have the same relations with the same third parties.
Using the F1 data, the research team modeled the probability that two drivers would
collide on a racetrack as a function of their structural equivalence in a
dynamic network of competitive relationships.
Professor Lee added, “We fully understand
that the drivers who ranked first and second are likely to have more conflict
because they meet more frequently and know each other well. We also regulated
all those conditions and confirmed that our hypothesis worked right throughout
the data analysis.”
Professor Lee, who wrote his doctoral
thesis on tennis tournaments for identifying the ideal organizational structure,
said that sports tournaments would be best optimized for comprehending the
nature of organizational structures. Tournaments, even those with rankings
based on objective criteria, are in fact intensely social. However, most prior
empirical work in this area has relied only on official information on
competitors’ performance, thus failing to capture the important elements of
past competitive encounters.
“It is not so easy to obtain data on
rivalries and conflicts inside an organization. However, in sports, the
performances of athletes are all recorded and the data can be utilized as a
very objective methodology for understanding social relations and their
Official positions in tournaments,
although clearly informative, can also be reductionist –excluding the
emotionally salient features of competitors’ histories and forcing competitors
together on a scalar metric, even when the competitors themselves do not see
each other as comparable.
The results from sample-split models are
important for social networking research, which has paid scant attention to the
contextual conditions in which structural equivalence is most consequential for
social action – especially hostile social actions.
The study suggests that new work will
benefit from examining how demographic overlap, network stability, and
perceived costs of conflict “activate” a structurally equivalent relationship
to the point that it is not only salient but also conducive to conflict.
Professor Lee said, “Sociology mainly
investigates the positive results of social success and collaboration. This
study shows that any violent activities, including homicide, also have
something to do with organizational and social structural equivalence.”
study was co-led by Professor Matthew Bothner from ESMT in Germany, Professor
Henning Piezunk from INSEAD in France, and Dr. Richard Haynes from the US
Treasury and was featured at the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences of the USA) in March.
(Figure: Drivers' competitive network and collisions. Nodes are drivers. Nodes enricled in black are labeled by name. Edges denote joint competition in at least one race. Red edges connecting indicate that the two drivers collided at least once. Using Fruchtermna-Reingold, nodes are generally proximte to the extendt that their average structural equivalence (over all races, from 1970 to 2014) is high.)