“I think if I was an Olympic athlete, I would rather come in last than win the silver, if you think about it. You know, you win the gold, you feel good. You win the bronze, you think, well, at least I got something. But you win that silver, that’s like congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers, you came in first of that group.”
Jerry Seinfeld may actually be on to something here. A group of psychologists actually studied the effects of winning silver versus bronze, and they found out that, on average, taking the bronze is much more satisfying than getting silver.
We all know the gold medal winners are quite elated. That’s almost a given. But Tom Gilovich, the chairman of Cornell’s psychology department, argues that bronze winners are actually happier than people who get silver.
The bronze medallist realizes what they have, a medal, and compares that to what they almost did not have. They’re one step away from no medal. And that feels good. So it fosters a psychology of ‘Well, at least I have a medal,’ whereas the silver medallist is one step away from the coveted gold, and that fosters a psychology of: ‘Oh, if only. If only I’d done this slightly different.’
In research based on the expressions of silver medallists, Gilovich found that they were significantly less happy-looking than the bronze medallists, and that was verified also in terms of how they looked on the medal stands later on. Videotaped interviews of the athletes conducted in the studio after the event were also studied. Results based on this material showed on the part of bronze medallists: ‘at least I got this medal,’ whereas the overall commentary on the part of the silver medallists was: ‘if only…’
The research team of Gilovich was unable to track how long the average medallist senses a regret for failing to win the gold medal. However, Gilovich mentions an account of a long-distance runner who was well ahead and then faded at the end and got the silver medal and later said, when he was 92 years old, that a day doesn’t go by when he doesn’t think of how he let the gold slip away.
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