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Why bronze medalists tend to be happier than silver medalists

Why bronze medalists tend to be happier than silver medalists

May 6, 2021

The Olympics of Barcelona in 1992 not only made this city change forever and became the capital of Mediterranean tourism that it is today (for good and for bad), but also they left us one of the most curious investigations about psychology applied to sport and the achievement of personal goals.

One of a series of investigations that in the 1990s led to a shift in psychology to what was known about motivation and perception of the value of things. Basically, it showed that, under certain conditions, people who perform better in a task can be much less satisfied and happy than those who get less good results .


Breaking paradigms

For a long time, in the field of research in psychology and economics, it has been believed that our way of reacting to certain facts and experiences corresponds to the degree to which they are objectively positive or negative for us.

Of course, the total objectivity does not work, but in this context it was understood that an objectively positive result is one in which we gain in security, social recognition and the likelihood of receiving pleasant stimuli that grow and compensate for the efforts, resources and time invested in making that this experience comes to occur.

In other words, the positive was linked to a rationalistic and rational logic , taking for granted that our priorities follow a scale similar to Maslow's pyramid and that what motivates us is directly proportional to the amount of value of the resources we obtain.


Applying common sense to the Olympics

Thus, a gold medal will always make us tend to react more positively than a silver medal, because its objective value is greater: in fact, its only use is to be a more valuable object than the other trophies . As all athletes believe that a gold medal is better than a silver or a bronze, the logical thing is that the degree of happiness and euphoria that you experience when you win the first two is greater than the one you experience when you win the bronze. .

This presupposition, however, has been questioned several times in recent decades , after several investigations showed how irrational we are when evaluating our achievements and the results of our decisions, even when these have not yet been taken and what is going to happen if we choose one option or the other. . This is precisely the direction in which he pointed out in 1995 the research on the Barcelona Olympics, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


An investigation based on facial expressions

In this research we wanted to compare the reactions of the winners of a silver medal with those of the winners of a bronze to see to what extent their degree of anger or happiness corresponded to the objective value of their trophy . For the realization of the study we worked on the assumption that "the face is the mirror of the soul", that is, that from the interpretation of facial expressions, a group of judges can get to very roughly imagine the state emotional of the person in question.

It is clear that there is always the possibility that the person lies, but that is where the Olympics come into play; the effort and dedication of elite athletes make it unlikely that, even if they wanted to hide their emotions, they would be too successful in that mission. The tension and emotional load associated with this type of competition are so high that self-control aimed at regulating these types of details becomes rather weak. So, your expressions and gestures should be relatively reliable .

After several students scored on a scale of 10 the reactions of the athletes just after winning their medal, the lowest value being the idea of ​​"suffering" and the highest "ecstasy", the researchers studied the means of these scores to see what they found .

Silver or bronze? Less is more

The results obtained by this team of researchers were surprising. Contrary to what common sense would dictate, those people who won a silver medal were not more happy than those who won the bronze . In fact, the opposite happened. Starting from the images recorded just after the results of the athletes were known, the winners of the silver medal were scored with an average of 4.8 on the scale, while the group of those who won a bronze obtained an average of 7.1.

As for the scores made on the images of the awards ceremony held somewhat later, the scores were 4.3 for the silver medalists and 5.7 for the bronze medalists. They continued winning these last, the third in discord .

What had happened? Possible hypotheses to this phenomenon

The possible explanation of this phenomenon was in conflict with the conception of the human being that objectively values ​​his achievements, and has to do with comparisons and expectations in the context of carrying out the exercise. The athletes who won the silver medal had aspired to the gold medal , while those who had received the bronze were expected to win or that prize or nothing.

The reaction of emotional type, therefore, has much to do with the imagined alternative: the silver medalists can come to torture themselves thinking of what could have happened if they had tried a little more or if they had made another decision, while those who win the bronze medal think of an alternative that is equivalent to not having won any medal, since this is the scenario closest to their real situation and with greater emotional implications .


The Goal Book - Chapter 2 - Why Olympic Bronze Medalists are Happier than Silver Medalists (May 2021).


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