The Victory Stance

Triumphant expressions are immediate and instinctual which is different from pride

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Spectators have watched athletes express emotions of victory since the advent of sport. What was once thought of as pure pride may now be viewed as an instinctual response to victory.

A recent study showed pictures of Olympic athletes at the moment they had won a medal match to groups of people.

No matter where the viewer or athlete was born and raised everyone agreed—pride and triumph are different.

"It is okay to celebrate, but not to gloat."

David Matsumoto, PhD, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, led a study into the way winners express themselves after victory. For the study, they showed photos of judo competitors from the 2004 Olympics. Each photo was of an athlete who had just won a medal match. Seventeen countries were represented in the photographs.

Participants were chosen to judge the emotions being expressed in the photos from the United States and South Korea.

Cultural differences between US and South Korean participants were expected to show in the results, but they did not. Through multiple studies, the emotion of triumph was consistently chosen by both cultures.

Victory stances have been thought of as acts of pride in the past. But after extensive research into expressions from winners all over the world, Dr. Matsumoto concluded they are universal signs of triumph.

Dr. Matsumoto said, “We found that displays of triumph include different behaviors to those of pride and occur more immediately after a victory or win. Triumph has its own signature expression that is immediate, automatic and universal across cultures.”

In a previous study, Dr. Matsumoto closely gauged the expressions from athletes in the 2008 Olympic Games. He discovered that both pride and shame expressions are quite similar across cultures.

This study breaks down the victory expressions to show that the body language of triumph is the inherent emotion in that moment across cultures.

Dr. Matsumoto’s research suggested that triumph is not a subset of pride, but a separate emotion altogether.

Study participants labeled athletes who held their arms wide with clenched fists, either bearing a grimace or yelling as feeling triumphant. They labeled stances with arms out, palms open, heads tilted and a small smile as feeling pride.

Dr. Matsumoto said, “One of the biggest differences between triumph and pride can be seen in the face. When someone feels triumphant after a contest or challenge, their face can look quite aggressive.”

He went on to give the example of the facial expression Michael Phelps had in the 2008 Olympics when he became the winner of eight gold medals.

The emotions of pride and triumph come from different places and show up at different times after success. Triumph has to do with winning a victory outright, whereas pride comes from feeling good about one’s own performance or accomplishment.

Triumph is immediate. The study documented the expression of triumph appeared within four seconds of winning.

Pride takes a moment to appear since it requires self-reflection. The study found that it took an average of 16 seconds for the expression of pride to appear after winning.

Dr. Matsumoto said, “Watch that immediate reaction in the first few seconds after an athlete has won their medal match—no matter what the sport is—and you’ll see this triumph response from athletes all around the world, regardless of culture.”

This study will be published in the September issue of Evolution and Human Behavior. Partial funding was provided by grants from the Army Research Institute and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research; no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 18, 2012
Last Updated:
February 11, 2013