ScienceShot: Olympic Triumph Is a Universal Expression

7 August 2012 12:11 pm

Marco Paköeningrat/Creative Commons

The fist-pumping, chest-swelling, grimacing roar that an Olympic judo player emits after body-slamming his opponent deserves a spot on the list of universally recognized expressions such as anger and happiness, a new study suggests. Researchers asked American and South Korean volunteers—whom psychologists recognize as having strikingly different cultures—to look at pictures of Olympic judo players from 17 countries who had just won matches in the 2004 games. Traditionally, psychologists have described the puffed-up physical reaction to winning—seen in this 2008 Olympics photo of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps—as "pride." However, when asked to choose among a selection of emotions to describe the players’ reactions, such as anger, joy, surprise, fear, triumph, and pride, the viewers consistently chose "triumph" to describe the expression instead. According to the study, which will be published in next month's issue of Evolution and Human Behavior, pride arises from a positive self-assessment a few moments after combat, generally producing a small smile and an easy, open stance. In contrast, triumph is an instant reaction to winning. By making the winner appear larger and more fearsome, triumph cements social dominance and advertises victory. In other words, we will rock you.

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