Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

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*Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing*

Lazy COMT enzymes, meanwhile, allow dopamine to linger in the brain, even when it's not stressed. The residual dopamine helps these folks function at a higher level during the status quo. When they're stressed, however, the dopamine surge crashes their system. They crack under the pressure. But the authors make it clear that your biology doesn't determine your destiny.

Some of the findings in the book feel wildly counterintuitive.

For example, Bronson and Merryman point out that competition is not necessarily divisive because participants mutually agree to follow the same set of rules. And because it "uncouples the delta brainwaves of emotion from the beta brainwaves of cognitive thought," testosterone actually makes you a more rational competitor.

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Perhaps most surprisingly, "Top Dog" describes how positive thinking can be detrimental to an athlete's performance. The better technique, Bronson and Merryman say, is to review your past performances in terms of "additive counterfactuals.

Book Review: Top Dog - WSJ

Competition, "Top Dog" reminds us, has been bringing out the best in humans for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks believed that only through competition could one achieve aretas - a supreme state of physical and moral virtue. Later, the book describes how competition, through the concept of paragone - "placing creative endeavors right next to one another, in a head-to-head competition" - drove Renaissance masters. The book is filled with colorful trivia and anecdotes. You'll sample - or gape in terror at - a set of math problems from a Taiwanese 10th-grade admission test. You'll understand why Honus Wagner's fearlessness on the base paths tells you something about his birth order.

And you'll learn how FedEx, on the eve of its collapse, was saved by a hot streak at a Las Vegas blackjack table.

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But perhaps the most important aspect of "Top Dog" is the way it defuses stereotypes about women and competition. Early in the book, for example, Bronson and Merryman cite a recent University of Texas McCombs School of Business study that found that, despite having fewer years of experience, women not only tend to be bolder than men in their stock predictions, they're also more accurate. E-mail: books sfchronicle. Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson. Photo: Chris Hardy.