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Why Bronze Medalists Are Happier Than Silver Medalists

August 5, 2012, 12:46 PM

What's the Latest Development?

After taking the silver and bronze medals in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the London 2012 Olympics, Team USA swimmers felt surprisingly different about their achievements. Ryan Lochte, who had taken silver, described himself as having come up "a little short," while bronze medalist Brendan Hansen said it had "worked out" and that it was "just awesome" that he got to go to the medal podium. "For decades, psychologists have noted an irony in elite athletic competition: It's the men and women with bronze medals who invariably look happier than the athletes who won silver."

What's the Big Idea?

Psychologists believe that because silver medalists compare their achievements to those who bested their abilities (gold medalists), second place finishers are given to second-guessing their own best efforts. A study on the matter published after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona concluded: "Finishing second is truly a mixed blessing. Performing that well provides a number of direct benefits that increase our well-being: recognition from others, boosts to self-esteem, and so on. At the same time, it can indirectly lower satisfaction by the unfortunate contrast with what might have been."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


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