We explored whether a dominance threat display as result of victory in agonistic encounters is actually produced in real life competition settings by examining the first whole body reactions produced by winners of the medal matches from three Olympic judo competitions, one of which included a sample of athletes who were blind. Winners displayed behavioral signals that were characterized into three categories, Expansion, Aggression, and Attention. These behavioral characteristics overlapped with descriptions of dominance displays in the previous literature. Other findings have suggested that these behaviors may be labeled as triumph.
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There have been studies that have examined facial expressions in reaction to winning or losing in competitive contexts. For example, Kraut and Johnston (1979) reported that bowlers presented smiles when facing their friends, but rarely smiled while facing the pins. Fernandez-Dols and Ruiz-Belda (1995) reported that Olympic medalists smiled when they interacted with others but that smiling was not necessarily related to the joy of winning. Matsumoto and Willingham (2006) reported that Olympic athletes produced facial expressions of emotion, including smiles, spontaneously when results of their medal matches were known; a subsequent study (Matsumoto and Willingham 2009) demonstrated that blind Olympic athletes also did so. These studies all focused on facial expressions of emotion, not whole body behaviors, and addressed debates concerning the signal value of facial expressions (Fridlund 2002; Parkinson 2005). The current study, however, is different in that its main purpose is to document whether or not specific whole body responses occur as initial reactions to winning or losing competition.
Different sports in the Paralympic Games allow participation by athletes with different disabilities. In judo all Paralympic athletes are blind.
Our conceptual framework suggested that the dominance threat signals should be produced as the initial bodily responses because they are reactions to the outcome of the matches. This required us to examine whether or not those signals were part of the first bodily reactions that occurred. This procedure is different than identifying the first occurrence of hypothesized behaviors, which is what is typically done in production studies of reactions to stimuli. This latter, alternative procedure can potentially overlook many reactions to the outcome of the matches. For example, if the hypothesized behaviors occurred 10 s after match completion and there were several bodily reactions that occurred within that 10 s period, the procedures we used could document not only whether the hypothesized behaviors occurred but also whether they occurred as part of the initial reactions to the outcomes (which would be consistent with our theoretical framework); the alternative procedure would document whether the behaviors occurred but would be silent about when they occurred. This difference is subtle but has important implications to the interpretations of the coded behaviors.
To be sure examinations of the second, third, or other bodily reactions after the first may lead to interesting findings about the nature of expressive behavior. For example, a study comparing subsequent facial expressions that occurred after an initial response in a competitive context demonstrated that, while the initial expressions were culturally invariant the subsequent expressions were moderated by culture (Matsumoto et al. 2009). Another study examining the labeling of the bodily expressions of victory signals suggested that the initial bodily reactions are better labeled as triumph while subsequent bodily expressions are better labeled as pride (Matsumoto and Hwang 2012). Our theoretical framework concerning dominance threat signals in this study, however, was not germane to those subsequent reactions, which is why we focused on the first bodily reactions.
Although Tracy and Matsumoto (2008) labeled some behaviors (head tilted forward or down, tongue out, eyes closed, and one or both arms pulled in toward body) as “shame,” they also noted that, in reality, these behaviors are also associated with submission (see also Andrews et al. 2000; Dickerson et al. 2004; Hall et al. 2005; Keltner and Harker 1998). There is yet to be definitive research delineating the difference between expressive behaviors related to shame and submission. In this paper we label these behaviors as “shame,” consistent with Tracy and Matsumoto (2008), but readers are cautioned about the limitations of this label.
If athletes’ behaviors could be observed but their reactions did not include any of the coded categories, they received zeros on all behavioral codes. Only eight athletes received zeroes on all codes. These data suggest that the behavioral configurations we coded were a substantial part of athletes’ initial reactions.
In a separate analysis we compared the gold and bronze medalists on each of the 20 coded behavioral categories. Only one produced a statistically significant result: “torso pushed out/leaning back,” t(104) = 2.36, p < .05, indicating that the bronze medalists had a significantly higher mean than gold medalists on this behavior. We interpreted these findings to suggest that there were no differences between the bronze and gold medalists on the coded behavior categories, which provided empirical justification for collapsing them into a single “winners” group.
We examined the total number of cases that had missing data on all behaviors coded. There were 38 such total cases across all three samples. Of these, 16 were winners while the other 22 were losers. We tested the difference in these proportions using a binomial test with chance set at 50 %. The p value was .42, which suggested that there was not a statistically significant difference between the numbers of winners and losers that had missing data overall.
We also examined the findings in Table 1 to identify statistically significant results that were associated with small sample sizes (N of either group < 20). There were three such findings: grimace for the 2004 Olympics, and shout/utterance and facial aggression for the 2004 Paralympics. We thus reran these findings using nonparametric statistics (median tests, Mann–Whitney Us and Kruskal–Wallis tests). The findings were still statistically significant using these tests. Thus we were reasonably assured that these findings were not affected by the distributions of the variables.
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The author wishes to thank Mina Park, Abimbola Moses, and Jenna Penne for their assistance in collecting data used in this study. The authors received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
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The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.
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Hwang, H.C., Matsumoto, D. Dominance threat display for victory and achievement in competition context. Motiv Emot 38, 206–214 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-013-9390-1