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The bronze medal makes me happier than the silver one

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The Barcelona Olympics of the year 1992 not only did they make this city change forever and become the capital of Mediterranean tourism that it is today (for better and for worse), but they also They left us one of the most curious investigations about psychology applied to sport and the achievement of personal goals.

One of a series of investigations that in the 90s caused a change in psychology in what was known about motivation and the perception of the value of things. Basically, he showed that, under certain conditions, people who perform better on a task may be much less satisfied and happy than those who perform less well.

Breaking paradigms

For a long time, in the field of psychology research and in economy It has been believed that our way of reacting to certain events and experiences corresponds to the degree to which these are objectively positive or negative for us.

Of course, total objectivity is useless, but in this context it was understood that an objectively positive result is one in which we gain security, recognition social and probabilities of receiving pleasant stimuli grow and come to compensate the efforts, resources and time invested in making this experience come to fruition. occur.

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In other words, the positive was linked to an economic and rational logic, assuming that our priorities follow a scale similar to the one Maslow's pyramid and that what motivates us is directly proportional to the amount of value from the resources we obtain.

Applying 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 the rest of the trophies. Since all athletes believe that a gold medal is better than a silver or bronze, it is logical that the degree of happiness and euphoria that they experience when winning the first two is greater than that experienced when winning the bronze.

This assumption, however, has been challenged several times in recent decades., after several investigations showed to what extent we are irrational when it comes to assessing our achievements and the results of our decisions, even when they have not yet been made and what can happen if we opt for one or the other is being foreseen option. This is precisely the direction in which the research on the Barcelona Olympics, published in 1995, pointed Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

An investigation 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 to see how your angry or happy level matched the target value of your trophy. To carry out the study, we worked on the presupposition that "the face is the mirror of the soul", that is, that from the interpretation of facial expressions, a group of judges can come to imagine in a very approximate way the emotional state of the person in question.

It is clear that there is always the possibility that the person is lying, but that is where the Olympics come into play; the effort and dedication of elite athletes make it unlikely that, even wanting to hide their emotions, they would be very successful in that mission. The tension and emotional load associated with this type of competition are so high that the self control aimed at regulating this type of detail become rather weak. Therefore, your expressions and gestures should be relatively reliable.

After several students rated the reactions of the athletes on a scale of 10 right after winning his medal, the lowest value being the idea of ​​"suffering" and the highest "ecstasy", the researchers studied the means of these scores to see what they found.

Silver or bronze? Less is more

The results obtained by this team of researchers were surprising. Contrary to what common sense would dictate, those who won a silver medal were no happier than those who got the bronze. In fact, the opposite was true. Based on the images recorded just after the results of the athletes were known, the medal winners The silver medalists were scored an average of 4.8 on the scale, while the group that earned a bronze averaged 4.8 on the scale. 7,1.

Regarding the scores made on the images of the awards ceremony performed somewhat later, the scores were 4.3 for the silver medalists and 5.7 for the made of bronze. The latter continued to win, the third parties in discord.

What had happened? Possible hypotheses for this phenomenon

The possible explanation of this phenomenon put an end to the conception of the human being who objectively values their achievements, and has to do with comparisons and expectations in the context of carrying out the exercise. The athletes who won the silver medal had aspired to the gold medal, while those who had received the bronze expected to win either that award or nothing.

The emotional reaction, therefore, has a lot to do with the imagined alternative: silver medalists can torture themselves thinking about what could have happened if they had tried a little harder or made a different decision, while those who win the bronze medal they think of an alternative that is equivalent to not having won any medal, since this is the scenario closest to their real situation and with greater emotional implications.

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