29 October 2018

The joy of the bronze medalist

It has been known for years that athletes who win bronze medals are happier than those who win silver.  When I encountered the photo above, I decided to look up the source.  Found this in Scientific American:
To scientifically investigate this question, the researchers took video footage of the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Specifically, they recorded the medal ceremonies and showed them to undergraduate students, as well as footage from the athletic competitions immediately following announcements of the winners. They asked them to rate the happiness displayed by each of the medalists on a 10-point scale, with 1 being “agony” and 10 being “ecstasy.”

On average, the silver medalists scored a 4.8, and the bronze medalists scored a 7.1 immediately following the announcement. Later in the day, at the medal ceremony, the silver medalists scored a 4.3 on the happiness scale, while the bronze medalists scored 5.7. Statistical analyses proved that both immediately after winning, as well as later at the medal ceremony, bronze medalists were visibly happier than the silver medalists...

Altogether, they found that thirteen of the fourteen gold medal winners smiled immediately after they completed their winning match, while eighteen of the twenty-six bronze medalists smiled. However, none of the silver medalists smiled immediately after their match ended. More interestingly, the facial expression that were recorded among silver medal winners ranged from sadness (43%) to contempt (14%) to nothing (29%). This means that it wasn't just that the silver medal winners were less happy than gold medalists; instead, as Matsumoto and Willingham write, "those who displayed something displayed discrete, negative emotions."
Photo via.


  1. How very interesting! I can't recall which of my high school coaches said it: "Second place is the first loser." Shows why I was always so bad at sportsing.

  2. Silver winners lost. Bronze winners are happy to be there anyway.

    Wanna bet 4th placers feel about the same as Silver winners?

  3. I heard (probably on public radio) that the reason that silver medalists are less happy than the gold or bronze medalists is because silver medalists understand that if they had just been a little better, they could have had the gold medal. In other words, they suffer from the pain of the "near-miss," I guess you could say.

    But bronze medalists see things differently. They realize that they avoided not getting a medal at all! They are just happy that they won something, I guess you could say.

  4. Ok, so I was once a just Junior Olympian that came home with a bronze: in my case I was never going to beat the gold winner, he was in another category entirely. I was upset at the moment that I lost my chance to win silver- I made a significant error that should have otherwise booted me off the podium. But I managed to keep it together from that point on. To be standing there at all was pretty emotional...I don't remember the guy who won silver. I imagine he had one of two thoughts: that either he was lucky to be there, or that he felt like he got something he didn't deserve because of my mistake. If he felt the latter: fortune favors the prepared.

  5. That's it- gold is a winner, silver is a loser, and bronze is a medalist.

  6. Perfect opportunity to plus the Bad Plus, 1972 Bronze Medalist, starting with a lovely little story (which might very well be made up):


  7. Something that may skew the data:

    In sports where you play against 1 person or team at a time, there are 2 medal games. One to determine the Gold/Silver, and a another to determine Bronze. So it would make sense that Bronze medal winners were happier after winning, as they had just won a match/game, while the Silver had just lost.

    To nobody's surprise, winning feels better than losing. And Bronze, while not Gold, still managed to end on a victory.

    1. That's a good point. I wonder if it was considered in all the studies.

  8. Or does the observation "act with the confidence of a mediocre white male" apply here? ;)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...