Stanford Professor Bob Sutton has a terrific blog post today about the Olympics. He asks: Are the bronze medal winners happier than the silver medal winners? He cites a study by Vicki Medvec, Scott Madey, and Tom GIlovich. They examined the emotions of medal winners at the Barcelona Olympics (using videotape). Naturally, gold medal winners were ecstatic. However, they found that bronze medal winners displayed more positive emotions than silver medalists. According to Sutton,
"The researchers proposed that this finding is driven by what is
called "counterfactual thinking," those thoughts of what might have been
if something different had happened. In particular, they proposed that
silver medals did upward comparisons to the gold medal winner, while
the bronze medalists did downward comparisons to people who didn't win
Sutton also points out that expectations play a key role here. Of course, a bronze medalist who expected gold won't be very happy. However, a bronze medalist who wondered whether they would win any medal at all will be quite thrilled. I'm intrigued by the research, and I'll be watching the emotions of the Olympians from here on out... watching to see if this research finding holds true in London.