Why Some Olympic Bronze Medalists Are Walking Away Happier Than Silver Medalists

Silver medalists are likely less happy than Bronze medalists, because our minds have a tendency to dwell on “what could have been.”


Silver medalists may be less happy than Bronze medalists, because of our mind's tendency to dwell on “what could have been.”

"If you win a silver, it is very difficult to not think, 'Boy, if I had just gone a little faster at the end,’” researcher Tom Gilovich, explained to the Washington Post. “The bronze-medal winners--some of them might think, 'I could have gotten gold if I had gone faster,' but it is easier to think, 'Boy, I might not have gotten a medal at all!'"

Back in the 90s Tom Gilovich was part of a team of researchers who went to the 1992 Summer Olympics to study the emotional reactions of Silver and Bronze medalists.

Unsurprisingly, during their study they found Gold medalists were quite happy with their performance and had very positive emotions—higher than the Silver and Bronze medalists. But they found Silver medalists would continuously talk about what they could have done differently in order to win, where as Bronze medalists were more focused on how lucky they were to win a medal at all.

It’s not just Olympic athletes, though. The researchers went to the Empire State Games, an amateur competition in New York, where they interviewed 115 athletes who received medals. The results were the same—the Silver medalists just couldn’t seem to shake the thought that they could have done more.

The researchers attribute these results to concept in psychology known as counterfactual thinking. It’s the human tenancy to ponder the possible alternatives to life events. So, for the Silver medalists this alternate reality may be winning the Gold, but for Bronze medalists it’s likely finishing without a medal at all. When considering these alternatives it’s no wonder the Bronze medalists is walking away with a bigger grin.

Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui is a perfect example: 

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less