Predictably Irrational

Investigating the Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions

Silver, Bronze, and Regret

Who regrets more at the Olympics?

This is a good time to reflect a bit on the Olympics

What do you think? Who is likely to experience more regret? Someone who won the silver medal in the Olympics, or someone who won the bronze medal in the Olympics?

In one study Bob Willingham took thousands of photographs of athletes in the seconds after they had won or lost a medal. Next, David Matsumoto then coded the photographs according to the athletes’ expressions.

What did they find? Bronze-medal winners looked nearly as happy as the winners of the gold medal, whereas the expressions of the silver medalists more closely resembled the athletes who placed fifth.

Silver medalists at the Olympics seem to perform what we call an upward comparison — they compare themselves against someone better off than them. Bronze medalists seem to perform downward comparison — they tend to compare themselves with people who did worse.

Of course, Olympic athletes are not the only ones who make such comparisons...

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Dan Ariely is a behavioral scientist at MIT and the author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

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