We cannot rate our performance objectively, say researchers, adding that we always compare our abilities with those of the others.
Interaction with high performers makes one feel more capable of being cooperative in team settings but less competent in competitive situations, suggested the study published in the journal Neuron.
The research shows that comparisons with other people can be used as an effective means for self-evaluation and conversely people make judgments about others based on their own traits.
“We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others,” University of Oxford researcher Marco Wittmann said.
Moreover, the degree of “self-other-mergence” is associated with an activity in a brain region previously implicated in theory of mind — the ability to understand the mental state of oneself and others.
Relatively little is known about which brain regions are involved in estimating the abilities of oneself and others, suggested the study.
However, the brain imaging data revealed that two distinct regions in the brains’ frontal cortex tracked the estimated abilities of oneself and others.
According to the study, the researchers addressed this question by combining behavioural experiments with functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Twenty-four subjects participated in two games that involved either assessing the colors of shapes or estimating elapsed time.
The researchers also assessed how the subjects’ expected performance ratings were influenced by cooperative and competitive contexts.
In cooperative situations, the subjects evaluated themselves more positively when the other players performed well and more negatively when the other players performed poorly.
However, in the competitive context, the subjects evaluated themselves more negatively when interacted with high performers compared to low performers, the study suggested.
“Our behavioural findings match well with what people experience in their workplace. They might feel better or worse about themselves depending on how well the group they are working with is doing, or they might feel worse about themselves when facing a strong competitor,” added Wittman.
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