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Competitive and non-competitive school climate and students’ mental and somatic health

On April 2 Márta Fülöp (PhD, DSc, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences) took part in the "Culture matters" research seminar with the report "Competitive and non-competitive school climate and students’ mental and somatic health".

As part of the „Beauty and the Beast” paradigm (Fülöp, 2008) competition was considered an „unhealthy” process in educational settings. Competition was e.g. considered to heighten the level of students’ anxiety (Shindler, 2009). Some researchers found that excessive competitiveness have detrimental effects on students’ health (Shield et al, 1987).

In the Hungarian discourse highly successful academic high schools having an academically gifted student force are often called „race horse stables”. The expression has a negative connotation referring to the hypothesized constraint of competition and its potential ill-effects.

In the study to be presented two groups of high school students participated. 323 students from five of the very best highly competitive academic high schools in the country among them a great number of academic contest winners and 87 students from Waldorf (Steiner) schools that have an explicit anti-competitive ethos. The goal of the research was to reveal if there are differences in the competitive attitudes of the students in these two different school contexts, if there are differences in the students’ psychological and somatic health and how these are related to some psychological protective factors (e.g. positivity, mental toughness, resilience).

The study found that being educated in a highly competitive context and participating in a great number of contests did not lead to more psychological and somatic health problems than the non-competitive context of Waldorf schools and in both contexts the most psychological and somatic problems emerged in relation to competition avoidant attitudes and low levels of protective factors.