The Barcelona Olympics in 1992 not only changed this city forever and became the capital of Mediterranean tourism as it is today (for better or for worse), but also they left us one of the most curious researches on psychology applied to sport and the achievement of personal goals.
One of a series of studies which in the 90s made a shift in psychology towards what we knew about motivation and the perception of the value of things. It essentially shows that, under certain conditions, people who perform better at a task may be much less satisfied and happy than those who perform less well.
For a long time in the field of research in psychology and economics, it was believed that the way we react to certain facts and experiences corresponded to the extent to which these are objectively positive or negative for us.
Of course, total objectivity does not work, but in this context it was understood that an objectively positive outcome is one in which we gain security, social recognition and the chances of receiving pleasant stimuli grow and come to compensate for the effort, resources and time invested. to make this experience a reality.
In other words, the positive was linked to an economistic and rational logic, With the understanding that our priorities follow a scale similar to Maslow’s pyramid and that what motivates us is directly proportional to the value of the resources we get.
Apply 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 other trophies. Since all athletes think that a gold medal is better than a silver or bronze medal, the most logical thing is that the degree of happiness and euphoria they experience in winning the first two is greater. than what we experience by winning the bronze medal.
This assumption has, however, been questioned several times in recent decades.After several investigations have shown how irrational we are when it comes to evaluating our successes and the results of our decisions, even when these have not yet been taken and what will happen if we are we opted for one option or another. This is precisely the direction in which research on the Barcelona Olympics, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pointed in 1995.
A survey 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 medal. see how their degree of anger or joy matched the objective value of their trophy. For the conduct of the study, we worked on the hypothesis that “the face is the mirror of the soul”, that is to say that from the interpretation of facial expressions, a group of judges can come to imagine very roughly the emotional state of the person in question.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the person will lie, but this is where the Olympics come in; the efforts and dedication of elite athletes make it unlikely that, while wanting to hide their emotions, they will succeed too well in this mission. The tension and emotional load associated with these types of competitions is so high that the self-control aimed at regulating these types of details becomes rather low. So, their expressions and gestures must be relatively reliable.
After several students rated on a scale of 10 the reactions of athletes immediately after winning their medal, and the lowest value for the idea of ”suffering” and the highest “ecstasy”, the researchers looked at the averages of these scores to see what they found.
Silver or bronze? Less is more
The results obtained by this team of researchers were astonishing. Contrary to common sense, those who won a silver medal were no happier than those who won the bronze medal. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Based on images recorded right after the athlete’s results were known, the silver medal winners were scored with an average of 4.8 on the scale, while the group of those who won a bronze medalist averaged 7.1.
As for the scores made on the images of the awards ceremony a little later, the scores were 4.3 for the silver medalists and 5.7 for the bronze medalists. The latter continued to win, the third in contention.
What happened? Possible hypotheses for this phenomenon
The possible explanation of this phenomenon was in contradiction with the conception of the human being who objectively values his successes, and has to do with the comparisons and the expectations within the framework of the realization of the exercise. The athletes who won the silver medal aspired to the gold medal, While those who received bronze were supposed to win that award or nothing.
The emotional type reaction therefore has a lot to do with the imagined alternative: Silver medalists can end up torturing themselves thinking about what might have happened if they had worked a little harder or if they had taken another decision, while those who win the bronze medal think of an alternative which amounts to not having won any medals, as this is the scenario closest to their real situation and with greater emotional implications.