Have you ever wondered if being at the top of an easy class is better for you than being lower down in a more challenging class?
Well, it appears in this study by the London School of Economics that for boys at least, the increased confidence of being top actually helps you achieve more than being middle ranked in a tougher class.
It appears that success breeds success, which might not come as a surprise to many.
In the world of positive thinking it has long been seen as important to 'feel like a winner' in order to win or to at least increase your chances of winning. This could explain how sports teams can rise up the through the leagues and divisions while other teams just watch as they are overtaken. The confidence instilled in winning at a lower level can boost a team to the extent that the next level is a synch and they keep on winning, beating a path up the ladder with ease.
However, we have a natural distaste for confidence, a distrust of feeling good in this way. We fear that confidence is actually over confidence and not healthy. It seems safer to struggle a bit in order to be sure that we are not committing the deadly sins of arrogance and laziness.
The traditional work ethic dictates that to keep working at your best you must not indulge yourself; relax and you are lost. The work ethic also states that to have commitment you must be behind the others, a lowly position provides motivation. However this study indicates the opposite, that being top is where it's at.
Some rightly point out that if everyone in the race believes they can win and there can only be one winner then a lot of people are going to be disappointed. So in that sense positive thinking cannot make you winner but maybe the experience of winning does help you.
The positive effect of winning as evidenced by this study provides a problem for teachers. Not everyone can be top of the class and kids are too savvy to be fooled by fake plaudits and prizes that they detect are confidence boosting scams. Kids know who really is top. The democracy of the class is threatened if just one of the kids is getting the all important boost. Any attempts to hide attainment levels will fail because kids know the real score.
After all this talk of winning, it easy to assume that greater success brings greater rewards. Watch the absolute joy of a football team getting promotion from a lower league and the way its fans erupt in sheer ecstasy. It is hard to imagine that winning at an even higher level would bring even more joy. The ladder of success accords with the law of diminishing returns, Hey Sir Alex?