When Olympic athletes raise their arms above their shoulders, clench their fists and lock their teeth into a grimace after a victory, we might think they are quite proud of themselves.
But the emotion felt by the athletes at that moment may not be pride but triumph, according to a recent body language study of competitive athletes. Pride comes later and is expressed differently, the study argues.
David Matsumoto, the San Francisco State University psychology professor who conducted the study, draws a distinction between pride — a positive feeling arising from satisfaction in oneself, and triumph — an intense, emotional release stemming from the accomplishment.
While pride is a recognized emotion in the field of psychology, triumph is not. Understanding the subtle differences between these and other emotions could lead to better treatment of emotional disorders, Matsumoto said.
“When we studied pride, there was always something gnawing at me because some of the expressions that were previously labeled pride just didn’t make that much sense to me,” he said. “So what we did in our study was really give some of the expressions a fair shot to be called triumph.”
Matsumoto asked college students in the U.S. and South Korea to describe expressions seen in photographs of Olympic judo competitors taken just moments after victory during the 2004 Games in Athens.
To both groups, the combination of aggressive behaviors seen in competitive athletes immediately following victory — a grimace, direct gaze, expanded chest, arms raised above the shoulders or in a punching motion, hands clenched into fists or giving thumbs up and a shout or utterance — suggested triumph.
Seconds later, a new set of expressive behaviors — head tilted back, a small smile, chest expanded, arms away from body with open hands — signaled the arrival of pride.
The results are based only on the judgment of observers, rather than the actual emotions felt by the victors. Matsumoto, whose study will be published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior later this year, plans to study the emotional responses of sighted and blind athletes next.