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Study: After Victory, Athletes’ First Reaction Is Dominance

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Russia's Elena Pautova crosses the finish line to win the Women's 1500 m T12 final, on July 27, 2013 during of the IPC Athletics World Championships at the Rhone Stadium in Venissieux.  (credit: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Elena Pautova crosses the finish line to win the Women’s 1500 m T12 final, on July 27, 2013 during of the IPC Athletics World Championships at the Rhone Stadium in Venissieux. (credit: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

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ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – According to a new study, an athlete’s initial and instinctive reaction is one of dominance over his opponent after winning.

Researchers studied body language in winners of Olympic and Paralympic judo matches.

“It appears to be innate and stems from an evolutionary need to establish order and hierarchy in society,” David Matsumoto, Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University and co-author of the study said in a press release.

Matsumoto along with co-author Hyisung Hwang published a similar study back in November and found that an athlete’s culture affects the intensity with which he or she displays body language.

“Cultures that are more status oriented have individuals who produce these behaviors more than individuals who come from cultures that are more egalitarian,” Matsumoto stated.

In the earlier study, researchers labeled the body language of athletes in victory poses as “triumph.” They then determined that triumph was different than pride.

Matsumoto and Hwang asked the question whether expressions of triumph are the immediate reaction of an athlete following victory in the most recent study.

In order to answer their question, the two observed the initial body motion made by an athlete after they were awarded victory. They then rated the motion on a five-point scale. Some of the actions they considered triumph were raising the arms above the shoulders, pushing the chest out, tilting the head back, and smiling. They observed these actions in athletes from all different cultural backgrounds and even in Paralympic athletes, which led the researchers to believe that this behavior is biologically innate.

“It is very quick, immediate, universal expression that is produced by many different people, in many cultures, immediately after winning their combat,” Matsumoto noted. “Many animals seem to have a dominant threat display that involves making their body look larger.”

In the initial study, Matsumoto and Hwang compared an athlete’s triumph with their “power distance.” Power distance (PD) is a measurement that represents the degree to which a culture encourages or discourages power, status, and hierarchical differences among groups. They determined that athletes from cultures with high PD produced body language more than athletes from cultures with low PD.

“If you’re in a meeting, the person sitting in the ‘power chair’ is going to be more erect and look taller, they’re going to use a strong voice, they’re going to use hand gestures that signify dominance,” Matsumoto said. “If there’s conflict, the person who yells the most or is the most stern will be seen as the leader.”

Some countries with high PD are Malaysia, Slovakia, and Romania. Some countries with low PD are Israel, Austria, and Finland. The United States fell somewhere in the middle.

The study was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.

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