TCompeting for Jobs
By TAN Kee Wee
(MediaCorp 938LIVE’s Money Talks, Thursday, 23 July
2009, 7.50 am and 7.20 pm)
Why do pretty girls often end up with unattractive
men? Most people would probably say that that’s because she is
after his money. Never mind if he has no hair and no
But there could be another explanation. Let me ask
another question. Have you ever restrained yourself from taking
the first step to get to know that hunk or that hottie you’ve
If your answer is “yes” then the follow-up question
is: “Why didn’t you take the first step?” And if your answer is
because you feel that you won’t be able to beat the other
suitors, then your answer is typical of what the majority would
say and do.
In the end, because of your restraint, the hunks and
hotties of the world end up with less attractive partners to
Behavioural economics has also looked into this situation.
It found that there is a relationship between the number of
participants in a competition and how motivated the
This conclusion was reached by two behavioural
researchers, Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan and
Avishalom Tor at the University of Haifa in Israel.
Using scores from the SAT university entrance exams,
they found that students’ test scores fell as the number of
students in the exam hall increased. Intrigued by the results,
the two researchers conducted further tests to determine
whether the low scores were due to overcrowding.
In one of the tests, a group of students was asked to
take a timed and easy general-knowledge quiz which they must
finish as quickly as possible. As an incentive, those who
finished in the top 20 percent were given some
Even though each student sat for the test alone, half
of the students were told that they were competing against ten
people. The other half were told that they were competing
against 100 people.
The results backed the original finding of a link
between test scores and the number of participants. Students
who were told that they were competing against ten people
performed better than those who were told that they were
competing against 100 people.
The students were then questioned to understand their
behavior. Eventually, it was found that when the students knew
there were few competitors, they figured their chances of
getting into the top 20 percent were high. And so they pushed
But when they knew that there were many competitors,
they became modest about their ambition to be in the top 20
percent. As a result, they did not try as hard.
This behavior applies to many situations in life. The
unemployment issue is one. When newspapers tell us that
millions of people are jobless, the unemployed man will assume
that his chances of securing a job are very low. In response,
he would give up hope of ever looking for a job.
For instance, the latest jobless rate for the US
economy is 9.5 percent. But if we were to include those who
recently gave up looking for jobs, the figure is higher at 12
The lesson policy makers can take away from this study
is to restrain newspapers from announcing too often that the
job situation is bad. Then the jobless will not give up their
And the lesson you and I can take away from this study is:
“Let’s not be shy. Let’s ask the hottie out for dinner”.