20 July 2009

Athletes' communication of pride and shame

Jessica Tracy and David Matsumoto wanted to find out whether humans' physical expressions of pride and shame were learned or instinctive. So they commissioned a photographer (who wasn't briefed on the purpose of the study) to take pictures of 108 judo competitors in the 2004 Olympics and Paralympics. In the Paralympics they focused on blind competitors.

On analysing the photos they found typical physical expressions, such as the raised head and arms, and clenched fists of winners and lowered head and narrowed shoulders of losers, in both groups of athletes. Within the blind athletes there was little difference in expression between those who had become blind and those who had been blind from birth. Across cultures there was slightly less tendency to show shame in the more egotistical Western cultures, suggesting some cultural mediation of an instinctive behaviour.

For those who argue that blind participants could have learned responses from their parents and coaches. Yes, some, such as raising the arms, but not the full repertoire of gestures. An elegant study.

[Via Notexactlyrocketscience]

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