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Athletes' Study Shows Pride, Shame Universal Behaviors

Whether sighted or blind, Olympic competitors displayed innate responses to winning, losing

MONDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A study of blind athletes shows that the proud victory stance of a gold medalist and the slumped posture of a non-medalist are innate and biological, rather than learned responses to success and failure.

The University of British Columbia study, published in this week's online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that blind and sighted individuals displayed pride and shame behaviors in response to the same success and failure situations.

The findings are based on observation of the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games in which researchers compared the non-verbal expressions and body language of sighted, blind, and congenitally blind judo competitors from around the world.

"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 behaviour," study co-author Jessica Tracy, a UBC psychology researcher, said in a university news release.

In studying photographs of the athletes during and immediately after each match, the researchers found that winning athletes, sighted and blind and across all cultures, tended to raise their arms, tilt their head up and puff out their chest. Also largely universal were the expressions of defeat, which included slumped shoulders and a narrowed chest.

To some extent, culture moderated the shame response among sighted athletes, the researchers noted. Individuals from highly individualistic, self-expression-valuing cultures, primarily in North America and West Eurasian countries, hide their shame more. However, congenitally blind athletes across cultures showed the shame response, a finding the researchers said suggested that cultural difference found among sighted athletes was due to cultural norm.

"These findings support evolutionary accounts that pride and shame would have been powerful mechanisms in enhancing or inhibiting an individual's social status," Tracy said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about mental health.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of British Columbia, news release, Aug. 11, 2008

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