The surprising benefits of coming in second place

Researchers found that Olympic silver medalists lived longer and earned more than gold medalists, which begs the question of what matters: your success, or how you respond to it.

Everyone loves the rewarding feeling of achieving a goal, but as it turns out, coming up short may not be such a bad alternative. In fact, it may even help you live longer. According to a University of Virginia study published in the Journal of Health Economics, Olympic silver medalists tend to live longer and earn more than gold medalists, which has prompted researchers to investigate what happens after the big win, and why second-place athletes are prospering later in life.


The researchers compared the mortality between Gold and Silver medalists in Olympic Track and Field between 1896 and 1948, and ultimately found a resounding trend in the financial outcomes of the athletes observed. The study found that about half of silver medalists were alive at age 80, compared to only a third of gold medalists. But they also found that second-place athletes pursued higher-paying occupations after the Olympics, while first-place winners went onto lower-paying pursuits. Particularly, 70 percent of silver medalists saw greater financial outcomes, while only 20 percent of gold medalists did the same.

Study author Adam Leive points out that while the Olympians who came in first and second place weren't very different from another in terms of physical and neurological factors, the silver medalists became more successful after their Olympic careers, which could have contributed to their longer life spans. "The pursuit of victory may harm health," he explains. "Time spent working may crowd out labor inputs to health." He also says that after the taxing efforts of winning a gold medal, athletes were not particularly motivated to find more success and take care of themselves. "Winning may affect future motivation and thereby influence real resources and health," he notes.

The athletes' financial outcomes may have affected their long-term health, but there are other impactful lifestyle choices that come from responding to a success or failure. "Disentangling the relationship between achievement and health is challenging because several channels may operate simultaneously," says Leive. "How people respond to success or failure in pivotal life events may produce long-lasting consequences for health," he explains.

Although we tend to assume success in our careers would only help us later on, Leive says in this case, coming in first could actually hinder your trajectory after the win. And while we're still planning to aim high, the study's findings serve as a reminder that if you do come in second, there's no need to be so hard on yourself. At the end of the day, what you do after your success or failure is more telling than the outcome itself.

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Reprinted with permission of Thrive Global. Read the original article.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.

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