The Olympics are also an incredible insight into the universality of emotional expressions.
In addition to being an amazing showcase of emotions, as we discussed last week, the Olympics also demonstrate the unity of human emotions across cultures. Given that the Games bring athletes together from all over the world, they present a prime study in the differences and similarities between differents expressions of emotions.
Followers of this blog should be familiar with the phenomena of universal basic emotions but also with the reality that cultural differences do complicate the process of reading people. Gestures, eye contact, and social cues all vary, so we cannot rely on excellent people reading skills in one culture to replicate our abilities in other situations.
However, as Humintell’s Dr. David Matsumoto maintained in a radio interview last week, there are some emotions that span such cultural divides. One of these is the expression of triumph, which is so frequently showcased by Olympic victors.
As mentioned last week, Dr. Matsumoto’s research has found that, upon winning the gold, Olympic athletes almost invariably showcase the same emotion: triumph.
Interestingly, this is not traditionally included as a universal basic emotion, but all the same, Dr. Matsumoto found it again and again in pictures and videos of triumphant competitors. He noted: “When we studied pride, there was always something gnawing at me because some of the expressions that were previously labeled pride just didn’t make that much sense to me.”
Eventually, he and fellow Humintell researcher Dr. Hyi Sung Hwang labeled this emotion triumph, contending that “Triumph has its own signature expression that is immediate, automatic and universal across cultures.” Instead of the subtle, self-satisfied smile that marks pride, triumph is displayed in a jubilant, almost aggressive fashion.
In the aforementioned radio interview, Dr. Matsumoto pointed out that this emotion holds even in cultures where dominance and triumph are generally deemphasized in favor of humility, and it can be seen amongst non-human primates and even other animals as well. This all suggests a deep evolutionary and biological root behind the emotion of triumph, which we have also noted with other emotions.
Moreover, its manifestation is not just limited to a facial expression. Triumph is often accompanied by a sort of “victory stance,” with arms raised and head held up high. This holds for victors from all over the world, emphasizing past research that found similarities in gestures universally across cultures.
Last week we emphasized that the Olympics are a great time to focus on trying to read expressions, because they are particularly pronounced in both defeat and victory. But reading facial expressions is only one facet of successfully reading people. This week, we would like to encourage you to look at gestures. Can you note the features of a triumphant stance? Does anything else jump out at you?