2011. Vol.2, No.4, 269-274
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.24043
Hypercompetitiveness and Relationships: Further Implications for
Romantic, Family, and Peer Relationships
Hypercompetitiveness and Relationships
Bill Thornton1, Richard M. Ryckman2, Joel A. Gold2
1Department of Psychology, University of Southern Maine, Portland, USA;
2University of Maine, Orono, USA.
Received April 28th, 2011; revised May 31st, 2011; accepted June 28th, 2011.
Romantic relationships of hypercompetitive individuals are much more problematic with greater conflict com-
pared to those not so hypercompetitive; however, relationship satisfaction and commitment do not covary with
hypercompetitiveness (Ryckman et al., 2002). Study 1 considered whether the type of commitment matters in a
romantic relationship. Indeed, hypercompetitiveness was associated positively with constraint commitment (i.e.,
maintaining a relationship out of concern for one’s investment and other social-psychological costs associated
with leaving), and was associated negatively with personal dedication commitment (i.e., interest in the relation-
ship based on concerns for mutual benefit). Not only may the romantic relationships of hypercompetitive indi-
viduals be more problematic, other interpersonal relationships may be negatively impacted as well. Study 2
noted that hypercompetitiveness was associated positively with relationship problems involving both family
members and peers; however, relationship closeness with family and friends did not vary with hypercompeti-
tiveness. Implications of findings in both studies are considered.
Keywords: Competitiveness, Hypercompetitiveness, Relationships
Individual differences in various personality traits have been
noted to influence the nature and experiences of romantic part-
ners and have implications for perceptions of quality of, satis-
faction with, and commitment to the relationship (e.g.,
Hendrick, Hendrick, & Adler, 1998; Kelly & Conley, 1987;
Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna, 1985; Robins, Caspi, & Moffitt,
2000; Shackleford & Buss, 1997; Watson, Hubbard, & Wiese,
2000). This research considered the concept of hypercompeti-
tiveness and its relationship to various aspects of the romantic
experience of adults in heterosexual relationships, as well as in
the relationship with family members and peers.
Hypercompetitiveness, an indiscriminate need to compete
and succeed at any cost, is a neurotic means of maintaining or
enhancing one’s self-worth (Horney, 1937). Further, it is char-
acterized by hostility and aggressiveness toward others, and the
tendency to be manipulative and exploitive of others, across a
variety of situations. According to Horney, hypercompetitive-
ness is a consequence of disturbed parent-child relationships in
early childhood wherein parents tend to deride, humiliate, or
reject the child. This serves to undermine the child’s sense of
basic security and contributes to feelings of inferiority and
anxiety. As a defense, a hypercompetitive orientation may de-
velop as a neurotic means to cope with the anxiety and inter-
personal threat. Not only is hypercompetitiveness expected to
have a negative impact on personality and social development,
but it also would be detrimental in later interpersonal relation-
ships, romantic or otherwise.
Consistent with Horney’s theory, research has shown that
hypercompetitive individuals are indeed highly neurotic and
that this neurotic tendency is based in anger and hostility to-
ward others (Ross, Rausch, & Canada, 2003). Other research
has provided additional evidence that hypercompetitive indi-
viduals are indeed characteristically less psychologically
healthy. For instance, they have a high need to control and
dominate others, engage in manipulative impression manage-
ment strategies, are authoritarian and dogmatic, are low in in-
terpersonal trust, are not forgiving of others’ transgressions, are
high in destructive narcissism and Machiavellianism, are not
self-actualizing, and have low self-esteem (Collier, Ryckman,
Thornton, & Gold, 2010; Dru, 2003; Ryckman, Hammer, Kac-
zor, & Gold, 1990; Ryckman, Libby, van den Borne, Gold, &
Lindner, 1997; Ryckman, Thornton, & Butler, 1994; Ryckman,
Thornton, Gold, & Burckle, 2002; Thornton, Lovley, Ryckman,
& Gold, 2009; Watson, Morris, & Miller, 1998).
In romantic relationships among heterosexual couples,
Ryckman et al. (2002) reported hypercompetitive individuals to
have stronger needs to control their partner, greater mistrust and
jealousy, provide little emotional support to their partner, inflict
more pain on them, and have more disagreement and conflict
with them. Also, following Lee’s (1977) typology of love, the
relationships of hypercompetitives were characterized by typi-
cally negative love styles: ludus (game playing; lack of com-
mitment), mania (very possessive, jealous love), and pragma
(practical, convenient love). More positive love styles such as
eros (romantic, passionate), storge (friendship), or agape (self-
less, altruistic), while not evident among hypercompetitive
individuals, were more characteristic of non-hypercompetitive
Considering that a person’s personality can be expected to
contribute to relationship outcomes (e.g., Robins et al., 2000),
and despite the characteristically negative nature of their rela-
tionships (Ryckman et al., 2002), it was somewhat surprising
that hypercompetitive individuals did not express any less sat-
isfaction with, nor any less commitment to, their relationship
compared to non-hypercompetitive individuals. In Rusbult’s
(1980, 1983) investment model for romantic relationships,
commitment and satisfaction are presumed to depend on re-
wards and costs associated with the relationship, the level of
“investment” in the relationship (e.g., time, effort, financial
resources), and the perceived availability of alternatives to the
present relationship and the comparison level of these alterna-
Relatedly, Stanley and Markman (1992) distinguished be-
tween two types of commitment, namely, personal dedication
and constraint commitment (the latter reflecting the “invest-
ment concerns” of Rusbult). Personal dedication commitment
is characterized by a personal interest in wanting the relation-
ship to continue, a desire to work to maintain and/or enhance
the quality of the relationship for mutual benefit, and would
involve working to benefit your partner while perhaps forego-
ing your own personal interests. Constraint commitment, on the
other hand, reflects personal, psychological, social, cultural, or
economic concerns that motivate a person to maintain a rela-
tionship independent of any sense of personal dedication to the
partner or relationship. So, despite their relationship problems,
hypercompetitive individuals may not have perceived any
comparable or better alternative relationships to the one they
had, or they may have had too much already invested in their
present relationship; thus, despite higher conflict, there was no
less satisfaction or commitment than that observed among those
less hypercompetitive.
The present study examined further the nature of constraints
that may serve to moderate the level of commitment individuals,
whether hypercompetitive or not, report with regard to their
romantic relationships. In addition to looking at expressed sat-
isfaction and commitment in general, the difference between
personal dedication commitment and constraint commitment
(Stanley & Markman, 1992) was considered to see whether
such a distinction would covary with hypercompetitiveness.
Study 1
Participants and Procedure
Undergraduate men (n = 139) and women (n = 168) at a pub-
lic university in the northeast participated in this research in
exchange for extra credit in their psychology course. They
completed a questionnaire set, the ostensible purpose of which
was to provide for baseline data for comparison use in subse-
quent research. The average age of male participants was 20.73
(SD = 3.71) and female participants was 21.63 (SD = 5.98).
Additional demographics included whether they were currently
in a heterosexual relationship, the length of the current rela-
tionship (converted to weeks), and the nature of the relationship:
casual (1), somewhat serious (2), serious, but not engaged (3),
serious and engaged (4), married/domestic partners (5). Those
who were not in a current relationship (n = 43; 24 men, 19
women) were excluded from this sample prior to data analysis.
Assessment Instruments
Romantic Experiences Scale. This valid and reliable measure
of relationship experiences assesses different aspects of a per-
son’s relationship and what a person gives and receives from
the relationship (Levesque, 1993). Twelve different compo-
nents of relationship experience are assessed (e.g., emotional
support, communication, toleration, togetherness, etc.). Fol-
lowing Ryckman et al. (2002), of particular importance to the
present study were the two subscale assessments of relationship
satisfaction (5 items; sample items include “In general, I am
satisfied with our relationship” and “Our relationship is just
about the best relationship I could hope to have.”) and rela-
tionship commitment (7-items; sample items include “I want to
spend my life with him/her” and “I expect to always love
her/him.”). Participants responded to individual items on a
6-point scale, strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (6). Total
scores for both satisfaction and commitment were computed by
summing the items responses for each of the two subscales. The
5-item satisfaction score could range from 5 to 30, with higher
scores reflecting greater relationship satisfaction (Cronbach’s
alpha coefficient for the present data, α = .87). The 7-item
commitment score could range from 7 to 42, with higher scores
reflecting greater relationship commitment (α = .80).
Commitment in Relationships Scale. Stanley and Markman
(1992) provide for a valid and reliable assessment of two dif-
ferent types of commitment in personal relationships, personal
dedication and constraint commitment. Personal dedication
commitment refers to the desire and intent to maintain and/or
improve one’s relationship for the benefit of both of the indi-
viduals involved. Sample items include “My relationship with
my partner is clearly part of my future life plans” and “My
relationship with my partner is more important to me than al-
most anything else in my life.” Constraint commitment, in con-
trast, reflects the perceived constraints that require a person to
stay in a relationship regardless of the situation and personal
dedication. Sample items include “My friends would not mind
if my partner and I broke up (or divorced)” (reverse-scored) and
“I would lose money, or feel like money had been wasted, if my
partner and I broke up (divorced).” Items were responded to
using 7-point continua, strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree
(7). Total scores for the 36-item personal dedication commit-
ment scale could range from 36 to 252, whereas total scores for
the 24-item constraint commitment scale could range from 24
to 168; higher scores on both were indicative of greater com-
mitment. Internal consistency for both personal dedication and
constraint commitment were quite high (α = .84 and .75, re-
Hypercompetitiveness Scale. This 26-item measure is a valid
and reliable assessment of individual differences in hypercom-
petitive attitude orientation (Ryckman et al., 1990). Sample
items are “I find myself being competitive even in situations
that do not call for competition” and “I find myself turning a
friendly game or activity into a serious contest or conflict.”
Items were responded to on a 5-point scale, strongly disagree (1)
to strongly agree (5). Scores could range from 26 to 130 with a
higher score indicating greater hypercompetitive orientation (α
= .85).
Social Desirability. Reynolds’ (1982) short form of the Mar-
lowe-Crowne (1964) Social Desirability Scale was included to
control for self-presentational biases. This is a 13-item measure
intended to assess individual propensity to provide socially
desirable responses (cf. Crowne & Marlowe, 1964). Sample
items include “I am always courteous, even to people who are
disagreeable” and “I have never deliberately said something
that hurt someone’s feelings.” Responses were made using a
5-point continuum, “never, or almost never, true of me” (1) to
“always, or almost always, true of me” (5). Scores could range
from 13 to 65; the higher the score, the greater the tendency for
an individual to express socially desirable responses (α = .76).
Results and Discussion
Results indicated men and women did not differ in age or ei-
ther the length and type of their relationship (Fs < 2.4, ns). Men
were more hypercompetitive than women (Ms = 79.98 and
73.53), F(1,302) = 15.76, p < .001. However, general relation-
ship satisfaction and commitment did not differ between men
and women (Fs < 1), nor were there sex differences in the more
specific personal dedication and constraint commitment as-
sessments (Fs < 1.4). Descriptive statistics are presented in
Table 1.
Although men are characteristically more hypercompetitive
than women, the magnitude of correlations between hyper-
competitiveness and personality assessments typically do not
differ between men and women (e.g., Ryckman et al., 1990,
1994, 2002; Thornton et al., 2009). As this was the case in the
present study, correlational analyses were conducted on the
overall group with social desirability as a covariate to control
for potential bias in self-presentation on self-report assessments.
Results of these partial correlation analyses are presented in
Table 2.
Consistent with the previous results of Ryckman et al. (2002),
hypercompetitive individuals were no less satisfied with their
relationship than non-hypercompetitives (r = .08), and indi-
cated no difference in regard to general commitment to the
relationship (r = .03).
Whereas general commitment was again observed to be un-
related to hypercompetitiveness, this was not the case with
consideration of Stanley and Markman’s (1992) distinction
between specific types of commitment. Hypercompetitiveness
positively correlated with constraint commitment (r = .27, p
< .001) and negatively correlated with dedicated commitment (r
= .29, p < .001). Thus, hypercompetitive individuals’ com-
mitment to a relationship appears to reflect, in part, different
reasons than those who are less hypercompetitive. In particular,
hypercompetitive individuals appear to be less interested in the
quality of their relationship and concerns for mutual benefit and
benefit of their partner than they are for maintaining the rela-
tionship because of investment concerns and other possible
Having considered romantic relationships, a subsequent study
Table 1.
Mean response (standard deviation in parent hes es) for men and women (Study 1).
Men (n = 139) Women (n = 168) F
Length of Relationship (in weeks) 20.89 (9.38) 23.24 (21.04) 2.07
Type of Relationship 2.86 (1.48) 2.63 (1.08) 2.40
Hypercompetitiveness 79.98 (13.99) 73.53 (14.19) 15.76*
Relationship Satisfaction 23.97 (5.54) 23.61 (6.29) 0.27
General Relationship Commitment 31.88 (6.84) 32.42 (7.66) 0.41
Personal Dedicated Commitment 174.14 (34.97) 178.94 (34.55) 1.39
Constraint Commitment 94.88 (11.46) 93.47 (11.11) 1.16
Note. df = 1,302; *p < .001.
Table 2.
Partial correlation co e fficients controlling f or social desirabilit y response bias (Study 1).
2 3 4 5 6 7
1. Length of Relationship (in weeks) .40** .03 .20** .32** .31** .19**
2. Type of Relationship .07 .28** .38** .39** .29**
3. Hypercompetitiveness .08 .03 -.29** .27*
4. Relationship Satisfaction .69** .68** .43**
5. Relationship Commitment .70** .48**
6. Personal Dedicated Commitment .63**
7. Constraint Commitment
ote. df = 278; *p < .01; **p < .001.
was conducted to examine whether other interpersonal rela-
tionships, specifically those involving family and friends, may
also be differentially related to hypercompetitiveness. In this
study, relationship quality would be assessed by considering the
magnitude or severity of problems indicated with one’s family
or peers (Hudson, 1982). It was expected that hypercompeti-
tiveness would be associated with more negative self-reported
evaluations of family and peer relationships. Since relationship
commitment did not seem to be appropriate where family or
peers were concerned, relationship closeness was considered
instead. Relationship closeness is a more generalized kind of
closeness evident, and assessed, in different types of relation-
ships, including those with both family and friends. It is char-
acterized by high interdependence between those involved and
reflects the frequency of interactions and mutual impact or
influence they have over one other (Kelley et al., 1983; Ber-
scheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989). One expectation is that the
relationships with family and peers of hypercompetitive indi-
viduals would not be as close as those of non-hypercom-peti-
tives. However, considering that there was no difference in
romantic relationships with regard to general commitment,
general closeness in family and peer relations may not differen-
tially relate to hypercompetitiveness either.
Study 2
Participants and Procedure
Undergraduate men (n = 90) and women (n = 102) at a pub-
lic university in the northeast participated in this research in
exchange for extra credit in their psychology course. They
completed a questionnaire set including the instruments below
with evaluations of family and peer relationship completed in
counterbalanced order. As before, the ostensible purpose of the
research was to obtain baseline data for comparison purposes in
subsequent research. The average age of male participants was
26.54 (SD = 8.25) and female participants was 25.67 (SD =
Assessment Instruments
Family Relationships. The Index of Family Relations pro-
vided a valid and reliable assessment with which to measure
family relationship problems (Hudson, 1982; Husdon, Acklin,
& Bartosh, 1980). This is a 25-item scale that permits the re-
spondent to characterize the magnitude or severity of problems
that a person has in his or her relationship with family and fam-
ily members and can serve as an overall measure of in-
tra-familial stress. Sample items are “I really do not care to be
around my family” and “I feel left out of my family.” Items
were responded to using a 5-point scale, rarely, or never (1) to
most or all the time (5). Item responses were totaled and 25
subtracted from each total score, thus providing for a possible
range from 0 to 100 with a higher score indicating greater fam-
ily relationship problems (α = .93). Hudson (1982) noted that a
score over 30 is indicative of a clinically significant problem in
the family relationship.
Peer Relationships. The Index of Peer Relations provided for
a valid and reliable assessment with which to measure relation-
ship problems with peers (Hudson, 1982; Forte & Green, 1994;
Klein, Beltran, & Sowers-Hoag, 1990). This is a 25-item scale
intended to measure the magnitude or severity of problems a
person has with his or her peers. Sample items include “My
peers seem to look down on me” and “I really feel like my
peers dislike me.” Items were responded to using a 5-point
scale, rarely or never (1) to most or all the time (5). Item re-
sponses were totaled and 25 subtracted from each total score,
thus providing for a possible range from 0 to 100 with a higher
score indicating greater family relationship problems (α = 94).
Hudson (1982) noted that a score over 35 is indicative of a
clinically significant problem in the relationship with peers.
Relationship Closeness. The Relationship Closeness Inven-
tory provides for a valid and reliable assessment of the interde-
pendence that exists between people in a relationship (Ber-
scheid et al., 1989, 2004). An overall index of “generic” rela-
tionship closeness is comprised of three components: the fre-
quency of interactions, the diversity of interactions, and the
strength of impact or influence the other person(s) has on the
respondent. Frequency of interaction reflects the time spent
with the other person(s) in the past week and the opportunity it
provides for interpersonal influence. Times were summed and
converted to a 10-point scale with a higher value indicating
greater interaction time. Diversity of interaction reflects the
number of activities (e.g., prepared a meal, went to movie, rec-
reational activity) in a 38-item checklist that were engaged in
with the other person(s) in the past week. The number of activi-
ties were summed and converted to a 10-point scale with a
higher value indicating a greater number of activities. Strength
of influence reflects the extent to which the other person(s)
influences one’s own daily behavior, decisions, and plans (e.g.,
how I spend my free time, what I watch on TV, how I spend my
money) provided in a 34-item list. The extent of influence on
each item is indicated using a 7-point scale, strongly disagree (1)
to strongly agree (7). Item responses are summed and converted
to a 10-point scale with a higher value indicating greater influ-
ence the other person(s) has on the individual. The three con-
verted scores are then summed to provide for an overall rela-
tionship closeness score ranging from 3 (low) to 30 (high). This
assessment was completed after both family and peer relation-
ship evaluations with instructions for respondents to think spe-
cifically about their family members or friends, respectively,
when completing the scale. Internal consistency for the
three-item composite for family (α = .65) and friends (α = .69)
was adequate.
Hypercompetitiveness and Social Desirability. Assessments
of hypercompetitive orientation (Ryckman et al., 1990) and
social desirability response bias (Reynolds, 1982) were the
same as described in the previous study. Internal consistencies
of each in the present study were quite adequate (α = .80
and .74, respectively).
Results and Discussion
Men and women did not differ in age (F < 1.5, ns), but men
were again more hypercompetitive than women, F(1,190) =
11.72, p < .001. It was also apparent that men had a greater
degree or more serious expression of problems with both family
members and peer relationships than that indicated by women,
Fs = 19.51 and 11.48, respectively, ps < .001. Men also indi-
cated having less close relationships than did women with re-
gard to both family and friends, Fs = 13.18 and 22.17, respec-
tively, ps < .001. Descriptive statistics are presented in Table 3.
Table 3.
Mean response (standard deviation in parent hes es) for men and women (Study 2).
Men (n = 90) Women (n = 102) F
Hypercompetitiveness 79.98 (13.99) 73.53 (14.19) 11.71*
Family Relations 24.09 (22.87) 12.07 (13.70) 19.51*
Relationship Closeness—Family 12.71 (4.72) 14.38 (4.81) 13.18*
Peer Relations 22.13 (18.24) 14.10 (14.33) 11.48*
Relationship Closeness—Peers 13.59 (4.96) 15.85 (4.77) 22.17*
Note. df = 1,190; *p < .001.
Despite the gender differences in hypercompetitiveness as
well as family and peer relation assessments, the magnitude of
correlations between hypercompetitiveness and relationship
assessments did not differ between men and women. As such,
partial correlational analyses were conducted on the overall
group with social desirability serving as a covariate to control
for potential bias in self-presentation on self-report assessments.
Results are summarized in Table 4.
Hypercompetitiveness was associated positively with greater
degree and severity of problematic relationships with both fam-
ily (r = .25, p < .001) and peers (r = .28; p < .001). Moreover,
the extent or severity of problems in relationships with family
members was correlated highly with problems in peer relation-
ships (r = .51, p < .001). And, the more problematic the rela-
tionship, the less relationship closeness was evident for both
family and friends, although these correlations were not of sig-
nificant magnitude.
Despite difficulties in their relationships with both family
and friends, hypercompetitiveness was not related to overall
relationship closeness in either family or peer relationships (rs
= .03 and .02, respectively). However, further examination of
the specific components indicated an interesting pattern. Hy-
percompetitiveness was associated positively with the fre-
quency of interactions in both family (r = .12, p = .10) and
friend (r = .14, p = .05) relationships, whereas the diversity of
such interactions did not vary (rs = .02 and .04, respectively).
In addition, hypercompetitiveness was negatively associated
with the strength of impact or influence others have over the
respondent’s behavior and decisions in family (r = .13, p = .07)
and peer (r = .15, p < .05) relations. As such, hypercompeti-
tive individuals appear to avoid, or resist, reciprocal influence,
Table 4.
Partial correlation coefficients controlling for social desirability re-
sponse bias (Study 2).
2 3 4 5
1. Hypercompetitiveness .25* .03 .28*.02
2. Family Relations .08 .51*
3. Relationship Closeness – Family .44*
4. Peer Relations .10
5. Relationship Closeness—Peers
Note. df = 190; *p < .001.
preferring instead to influence others, or at least give the ap-
pearance of such. This is consistent with hypercompetitive
individuals being mistrustful, controlling, manipulative, and
concerned with demonstrating and maintaining personal supe-
riority over others.
General Conclusion
The romantic relationships for hypercompetitive individuals
are of lesser quality and characterized by greater conflict
(Ryckman et al., 2002). While they may be no less committed
to their relationship, the results of Study 1 indicate that the
nature of their commitment is less psychologically healthy than
that characterizing non-hypercompetitive relationships. Indeed,
it appears that hypercompetitive individuals have a level of
commitment to their romantic relationship that is based primar-
ily on meeting their own selfish needs and not on any concern
for satisfying the needs or mutual benefit of their partners. As
such, the more their own personal needs are satisfied, the more
likely they are to remain committed to the relationship and thus
report relationship satisfaction. These results are consistent with
prior research indicative of hypercompetitives engaging in
more maladaptive behavior in their romantic relationships (e.g.,
Ryckman et al., 2002).
The results of Study 2 further indicate that hypercompetitive
individuals have problematic relationships within other inter-
personal realms as well. Specifically, hypercompetitives ex-
pressed greater discontent with, and greater problems in, rela-
tionships involving both family members and their peers. Nev-
ertheless, relationship closeness did not differ as a function of
hypercompetitiveness. Indeed, hypercompetitive individuals are
in need of maintaining relationships just as those less hyper-
competitive. However their need may simply reflect the same
personal, selfish needs as evident in their romantic relationships
and thus affords them additional opportunity in which to neu-
rotically maintain or enhance their self-image and to assert their
personal superiority and control over others.
Horney (1937) expressed concern with regard to hypercom-
petitiveness and observed that it was particularly evident in
American culture more than 70 years ago. Hypercompetitive-
ness, as embodied in the “win-at-all-cost” attitude, continues to
be a basic component in American life and poses a potential
health problem (Briggs, 2008; Ryckman et al., 1990). Research
consistently demonstrates hypercompetitiveness to be associ-
ated with a diversity of negative personality correlates as well
as having negative implications for different interpersonal rela-
tionships. Consideration of the hypercompetitive construct in
counseling could prove useful for conceptualizing the problems
some may have in their relationships with others, romantic or
otherwise, and efforts could be directed at effecting change
with regard to specific behavioral manifestations (i.e., control,
dogmatic, mistrust, jealousy, etc.) in an attempt to improve on
the quality of the relationship for those involved.
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