The sight of proud athletes stood tall, arms raised, chests puffed out will be ubiquitous over the next few weeks of the Olympics. We’ll also see the less successful with their heads slumped. According to a new study, these emotional displays of pride and shame are not learned, culturally defined habits. Rather, just like the core emotions of happiness, sadness, fear and disgust, the ways we display pride and shame are innate and have probably evolved to either shore up our status or convey our acceptance of another’s dominance.
Jessica Tracy and David Matsumoto analysed photographs of 140 judo competitors from 36 nations taken at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic games, after either a loss or victory. Crucially, 53 of these competitors were blind, 12 of them from birth. The way these congenitally blind competitors responded to a loss or victory was of particular interest to the researchers because they will never have seen how other people display their pride or shame.
All the competitors, regardless of their country of origin or whether they were sighted or blind, tended to demonstrate their pride (head tilted back, chest expanded, arms raised) and shame (slumped shoulders, narrowed chest) in the same fashion. There was just one exception: sighted competitors from North America and Western Europe tended to conceal their shame, presumably because of cultural-specific pressures to maintain an air of self-confidence whatever the circumstances.
“…[T]he emotions of pride and shame may have evolved innate nonverbal expressions, challenging the long standing assumption in the emotion literature that only a small set of emotions fit within the Darwinian framework,” the researchers said.
Tracy, J.L., Matsumoto, D. (2008). The spontaneous expression of pride and shame: Evidence for biologically innate nonverbal displays. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0802686105