Why The Silver Medalist Looks So Miserable

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Take a close look at this picture. The guy on the right (swimmer Ryan Lochte) has just won a bronze medal in the Olympics, and he’s beaming. The guy on the left, Laszlo Cseh, has just won the silver—and he looks miserable.

It makes no sense, says Duke University neuroscientist Scott Huettel, unless you understand the psychology of winning. In a classic study comparing the expressions of Olympic medalists, Huettel notes, researchers found a common pattern: “The gold medalist is very happy, the bronze medalist is very happy, and the silver medalist often has this sort of blank expression on his or her face—sort of staring out into the distance.”

Huettel explains the pattern to Susan Spencer of CBS News: “The bronze medalists had thoughts that compared themselves to everybody else, so they thought, ‘Wow, if I’d only done a little worse, I would be one of those many people who are not here on the medal stand—I made it, I’m a medalist!'” said Huettel. “The silver medalists, though, had thoughts that compared themselves to the gold medalist—’I just missed it!'” (Read more here.)

Important to remember: our experience of events is shaped so powerfully by how we think about those events . . .

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