The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

olympics-emotional-moments-slideshow-judoWith the Rio Olympic Games coming to an end and the Paralympic Games starting September 7th, we can learn a lot about human behavior by studying the pinnacle of sporting events.

From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, we’ve seen a wide range of human emotions that connects us all.

As the leaders of scientific research surrounding emotions in the Olympics, Humintell is happy to highlight some of our latest findings that have been featured in major media outlets over the past few weeks.



The Olympic Winners’ Facial Expressions Are a Scientific Mystery

Even if you hate sports, even if your favorite athlete just lost, even you’re already sick of the Olympics or just kind of indifferent to the whole thing, it’s hard to watch the winners’ reactions without feeling your own little tug of emotion. READ MORE


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The Bizarre Psychology of the Bronze Medal Win

As it turns out, bronze medalists tend to exhibit happier responses to their Olympic performances than silver medalists, according to researchers.READ MORE


Olympic Victory and Defeat, Frame by Frame

It may sound trite, but the Olympic Games truly are a chance to witness what unites us all as human beings: Our joy in triumph and our anguish in defeat. READ MORE



Why Bronze Medalists are Happier than Silver Medalists

The Olympics is a laboratory for testing the limits of human strength and endurance. But it serves as a laboratory for other types of experiments, too. READ MORE



Emotions in the Olympics

What drives Olympic athletes’ emotions?

SF State psychologist and Humintell Director David Matsumoto answer this question explains the science behind an athlete’s “victory stance” in the video below.

For more on Emotions, Sports and Critical Thinking, view this past blog post.


Olympic Victory and Defeat, Frame by Frame

legoolympics-13c8f88add97fe83c01fa523cac2287973c0b12f-s800-c85From NPR’s “Hidden Brain”

It may sound trite, but the Olympic Games truly are a chance to witness what unites us all as human beings: Our joy in triumph and our anguish in defeat.

David Matsumoto believes this truism, but on an entirely different level.

Matsumoto is a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and a former Olympic judo coach. He has analyzed the behavior of Olympic athletes. He spoke recently with Shankar Vedantam about what his research reveals.

Matsumoto and his colleagues used a high-speed camera to analyze the faces of judo players immediately after the medal matches at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. They examined 84 athletes from 35 different countries. The study found striking similarities in how athletes responded in the first milliseconds following victory (smiling) or defeat (sadness or no expression). The athletes’ responses eventually diverged in culturally specific ways, but not before displaying consistent expressions. Previous research has shown similar results, but Matsumoto says this was the first study set in such a high-stakes, real-world competitive environment.

The findings suggest humans’ immediate reactions to victory and defeat are universal in nature. But Matsumoto couldn’t rule out the possibility that these consistent reactions were all learned by athletes after watching others.

That is, until he turned his lens to the Paralympic Games. In Paralympic judo, the players are all blind.

Matsumoto and his colleagues did a follow-up study examining the faces of blind judo players in the 2004 Paralympic Games, including those who were born blind. The congenitally blind athletes were unable to have learned expressions through sight.

So when their reactions lined up with all the others athletes’, including the sighted athletes from the previous study, Matsumoto had even stronger evidence to suggest that our spontaneous reactions to winning and losing are simply part of our nature, not nurture.

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