Sunday, August 24, 2008

Evolving the Winning (and Losing) Stance

Posted by Garrick Garcia

Today being the end of Bejing’s awesome Olympic debut, I’d like to add a little science to what Olympic viewers might like to know: winning and losing poses are evolved human behaviors.

A recent study reported earlier this month that the poses us humans strike when we win(arms in the air, head thrown back, and a puffed out chest), and lose(shoulders slumped inward and a narrowed chest) are found in all humans and are not culturally induced.

The study documented the behaviors of winning and losing athletes during the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic games among sighted people, those born blind, and those who became blind later in life. They found throughout all of them, that their behaviors were very similar.

There was a difference among whether or not certain cultures chose to display their reactions though. Sighted athletes in Western cultures that value individualism would less likely exhibit behaviors of shame in losing, probably because westerners are taught to withdraw from showing shame. Those cultures who value collectivism, like many Asian countries, still do and are taught to show behaviors of an Olympic fail.

The report shows that those who were blind at birth had no way of learning how to react to a win or a loss, and that their reactions must have been naturally authentic. Their behaviors demonstrate that how we react is a part of human nature.

The winning pose, exhibiting the expansion of the body, lets others know that you are bigger than you appear and establishes your victory with a display of dominance. It shows that you are powerful and in control; this behavior would have been selected for over the course of human evolution to display success.

The losing pose, having a shrunken, closed body, demonstrates that you’ve recognized your loss and are submissive to those around you. Admitting that you just messed up and are willing to submit to others could have been selected for, as dominance is such an important factor. A display of shame had become a trait all humans can show.

This isn’t just for us sapiens either; the other primates have shown this just as well. Chimps also sport the inflated look of power and deflated look of shame in their dominance displays, but studies have yet to be done on what exact behaviors lead to their displays.

With the Bejing Olympic Games now at a close, look for the poses athletes strike in their moments of glory or defeat, and know that it’s just another thing that makes all similar. It truly is a fascinating thought that evolutionary behaviors can somewhat unite us as a species, whether we win or lose.

Credited article to LiveScience, and Emilee Wong for telling me.

1 comment:

Fenisargon said...

I've never really thought about that.. Good post, Garrick. It's easier to pick up on these things if you watch without sound. Try it sometime. Just watch a person's gestures and see if you can tell what they're saying even if it isn't verbal.

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