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For athletes in Pyeongchang, bronze may be the key to happiness

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Jeff Tyson

Athletes gathering in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics will vie for the coveted gold medal in their respective events, but those who fall just short will likely be happier with a bronze than a silver medal, according to a Cornell University psychologist.

Thomas Gilovich

Professor of Psychology

Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, studied coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain and the emotions of medal winners. He says bronze medalists appear happier than their competitors who win silver.

Gilovich says:

“One of the most important lessons psychologists have to offer is that people do not respond to the stimuli they encounter, they respond to the meaning they assign to those stimuli. Few empirical findings illustrate this lesson better than the result — first documented in the context of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain — that bronze medalists appear to be happier, both just after they finish their events and on the medal stand, than the silver medalists who outperformed them. 

“Silver medalists naturally focus on something they didn’t achieve, the coveted gold, whereas bronze medalists focus on what they did achieve — a medal.”

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