Monday, July 30, 2012

The Olympics: Who is Happier? The Bronze vs. the Silver Medalists

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 medals"

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.


Amarendra R N said...

Interesting finding.
Along with intial (pre-game) expectations the game situation and type of event would also matter - for example:
1. A single final round/race producing a close finish between #1,#2 and #3,#4,#5 .
2. Events where the finals will only decide the gold and silver, and there's a playoff for bronze.

Wouldn't the mix of type of events and situations at the Games determine whether the research findings hold true (for most of the time) or not?

Just yesterday, in a weightlifting event finals; while the eventual winner was assured of gold even before his last lift, the silver medal winner made it only in his last lift displacing the lifter who'd been at #2 all along.

Matti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matti said...

Fully agree with Amarendra -- in most team sports getting the silver means you lost the final match, getting the broze means you won.