Research Project

Overview of the Research Project

The Struggle for Competence in Academic Selection: Social Psychological Influences on Competence Threat

Fabrizio Butera, Gabriel Mugny, Alain Quiamzade, Céline Buchs, Céline Darnon, & Etienne Bourgeois

Selection is a pervasive feature of academic life, with a permanent emphasis on testing, ranking and assessing for pupils and students, teachers and researchers, schools and universities. The present project stems from the hypothesis that, although selection is intended to identify the most competent people and may elicit some positive outcomes, it might also have the paradoxical effect of reducing actual competence of its targets. This hypothesis is based on the notion that selection renders people’s competences negatively interdependent—the less competent people are selected out—thereby creating a struggle for competence. The importance of this phenomenon is that selection and the consequent struggle for competence may elicit a competence threat—the particularly aversive psychological feeling that self-competence is called into question—which is detrimental to performance, learning and cooperative social interactions. Six subprojects investigate, by conducting a series of experimental and correlational studies, the effects of the struggle for competence on competence threat at four different levels of analysis: ideological, intergroup, interpersonal and intra-individual.

The present project studies the processes that lead from competence struggle to competence threat, but also the mechanisms that allow reversing these processes, which can provide insights as to specific and appropriate avenues for interventions and policy making.