Bioethics Blogs

When People Work Together is Less More or Less (and is More Less or More)?

Written by Andreas Kappes

This is an unedited version of Andreas Kappes’ article which was originally  published on The Conversation


Doping in sports often gives us intriguing insights not only into how we think about right and wrong1, but also into our intuitions about performance. In the aftermath of the latest doping scandal, for instance, Arsene Wegner, eminent football manager of Arsenal London, accused the Uefa (governing body of European football) of “basically accepting” doping 2. Arsenal London had just lost to Dynamo Kiev and one player form the Ukrainian team was caught doping. Uefa did not punish the Ukrainians, only the perpetrator. But surely, one doped player makes a team better, gives an unfair advantage to them, right? This intuition reflects how most of us think about performance in groups, not only in sports, but group performance everywhere. More of something that enhances individual performance such as expertise or skill is also more success for the team, and more of something that impairs individual performance such as sleep deprivation or stress means also less success for the team.

My colleague Nadira Faber and her colleagues challenge this basic assumption in a new ground-breaking theoretical article, suggesting that this is not necessarily the case3. Rather, they forcefully argue, each individual performance enhancer and performance impairment has the potential to increase or decrease group performance. This has counterintuitive implications not only for your sports team, but also for science communication and policy making.

Group performance is perplexing. Consider the following examples: Basketball plater Patrick Ewing, one of the best to ever play the game of basketball4, injured his Achilles tendon during the conference finals 1999, the last step before reaching the ultimate goal, the NBA finals.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.