To find out if this kind of trash talk might help people to get ahead, Yip and his colleagues invited 178 students to play an online game. Half the students had been prepped with some neutral chit-chat beforehand, while the others were riled up with comments like “hey dummy –you’re going to lose, and you’re going to lose bad…. end of story!!!!!!” They were all informed that if they won, they’d win the coveted prize of $1.
Incredibly, those who had been the targets of trash-talking performed significantly better than those who hadn’t. “That’s interesting because though we tend to think of it as being a way of intimidating another person, and diminishing their performance, what we’re finding is that when you’re the recipient of trash talk, you become extra motivated to outperform your opponent,” says Yip.
As Yip points out in his study, the workplace is a hotbed of competition, because this is the natural consequence when there aren’t enough resources to go around. In the world of work, these “resources” consist of bonuses, promotions and places on the most exciting projects.