On the Mechanism of Competition and Outcomes in Schools of Thought and Other Realms of Human Endeavors

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We pose the question whether freely competing humans, who are honing specific skills, attain performance that ascribes to a universal law. This question is of profound importance to understanding the nature and limitations of the constructive and destructive processes underlying human civilization. To this end, we study three domains of human activity: 1) the performance of fighter pilots during WWII - a realm of competition in human-machine interaction with destructive aims; 2) the performance of computer science and biology researchers in obtaining NSF and NIH grants, respectively - a realm of intellectual competition with constructive aims; 3) the performance of Olympic US swimmers and French fencers - a realm of physical competition with constructive aims. Despite the differences among these three domains, we find all paired combinations of human performance curves to be log-normal and highly correlated. On a deeper level, we find that given enough time, systems of freely competing skilled humans are dominated by the exceptional performance of a few individuals – a signature state of maximal system performance. In contradistinction, when individual performance is more equitably distributed, then either not enough time has been given to the system to evolve, or the competing actors are restrained or undercut in some sense – a signature state of suboptimal system performance. If two skilled groups ascribe to the same performance law, freely competing within and between, how does one eventually surpass the other and do not end up in a perpetual stalemate? To start addressing this follow-up question, we study the competing psychology schools of affectivism and cognitivism. Affectivism/cognitivism is dedicated to the behavioral role of affective/cognitive phenomena. Analyzing nearly half a million relevant publications from PubMed with over 15 million citations, we find the citation impact of both affectivism and cognitivism to be log-normal, much like performance in all other domains we studied. Affectivism, however, has been inching ahead of cognitivism impact-wise. This impact advancement is associated with higher level of topical diversity in the papers that cite affective publications versus those that cite cognitive publications. It appears that between two competing and maximally performing intellectual ecosystems, broader usefulness is the likely driver of gradual domination. In other domains, the underlying mechanism of gradual domination may be different, requiring separate studies.

Performance, Law, Affectivism, Cognitivism