Beijing Olympics

Mark J. Terrill/AP
Dara Torres waves to the crowd after
swimming to
victory in the women's
100-meter freestyle final at the US

Olympic swimming trials (AP)

Olympic Athletes Show Universal Gestures of Pride, Shame

August 19, 2008 05:00 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Olympic and Paralympic athletes from a variety of cultures and countries have the same physical expressions of pride and shame.
The Olympics demonstrate more than a global desire for competition and success: they also indicate that athletes’ expressions of pride and shame are universal across countries and cultures. Jessica Tracy of the University of British Columbia and David Matsumoto of San Francisco State University studied photos of sighted and blind judo competitors’ responses during the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games and determined that the expressions of victory or loss were the same across the board: athletes expressing pride threw their shoulders back, puffed out their chests and raised their hands above their heads, while athletes expressing defeat bowed their heads and narrowed their chests.

Tracy explains that the results from blind athletes supports the theory that expressions of pride and shame are innate: “Since congenitally blind individuals could not have learned pride and shame behaviors from watching others, these displays of victory or defeat are likely to be an innate biological propensity in humans, rather than learned behavior.” However, shame expressed by sighted athletes from Western cultures tended to be “less pronounced” than that expressed by congenitally blind athletes, probably because of the “Western cultural norm of hiding one’s shame.”

Expressions of pride and shame serve an evolutionary function. In a discussion of the study, The Economist notes, “[Proud] people could be advertising their accomplishments and ensuring their status and acceptance within their social group. Similarly, shame shows acceptance of a defeat and a reluctance to fight on (which may help to avoid further aggression), and so might well be a display of submission.”

Related Topic: The two types of pride

In an June 2007 study, Tracy and researcher Richard Robins discovered that two distinct types of pride can be observed in individuals: “authentic pride and hubristic pride.” According to a blog on the Association for Psychological Science Web site, “People exhibiting authentic pride were more likely to score high on extraversion, agreeableness, genuine self-esteem and conscientiousness—all adaptive, appealing traits. But those exhibiting hubristic pride were narcissistic and prone to shame.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines