Ambition: expensive for some, unnecessary for others?

What makes one person more ambitious than the next?  Is it social factors – upbringing, class, cultural influences, or is it primal – genetically fixed with some kind of temperamental determinism?  And is a trait like ambition absolute and unwavering, or is it something more fluid, that is, once dormant, if can be unleashed with the right trigger?

This Time feature finds out.

What I find interesting is how an over-exercise of ambitions can lead to not only extreme stress, but cheating and other moral transgressions.

Cheating was common, and most students shrugged it off as only a minor problem. A number of parents–some of whose children carried a 4.0 average–sought to have their kids classified as special-education students, which would entitle them to extra time on standardized tests. “Kids develop their own moral code,” says Demerath. “They have a keen sense of competing with others and are developing identities geared to that.”

And what better example than those over-ambitious Chinese students (and their parents and teachers) that cheated in a marathon in order to get extra exam credits.

Competitors stood to gain a crucial advantage in China’s highly competitive university entrance exams. Those who finished in under two hours and 34 minutes could add extra points to their score in the gaokao. … The exams are so crucial to the future of Chinese children that both students and their families will go to extraordinary lengths to guarantee success. Last year, eight parents and teachers were jailed on state secret charges after using communication devices – including scanners and wireless earpieces – to help pupils cheat.

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