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Science
Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

The Psychology of Rivalries

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Even though competing sports teams who consider themselves rivals like to highlight their supposedly apparent differences – in actuality, rivals are more alike than they are different. They share a common goal, for which they are competing.

Rivalries allow us as humans to have a friendly competition. They can be energizing, and allow us to bond with our communities over success or failure. 

In that way, rivals are far from enemies. Yes, they compete to achieve some level of superiority over one another – but since they share a common goal, there’s no hostility or opposition imposed within the nature of a rivalry relationship.

Some rivalries, though, can feel hostile: a messy kind of rivalry relationship can exist between siblings. Siblings, like football teams competing for a championship title, are competing for their parents’ limited resources of time, attention and affection.

We all grow into adults after childhood – which would ideally include leaving sibling rivalries behind – but that’s not always so easily granted. Transforming some rivalries into healthy nurturing relationships can take a lot of thought, energy and self-reflection. But sometimes just knowing that change is possible is half the battle. 

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