Today’s Boston Globe section “Uncommon Knowledge” abstracts several interesting studies related to the olympics, including two that are quite situationist: one discussing bias in Olympic coverage and the other examining the influence of expectations and counterfactual thinking among medalists. We’ve excerpted those two abstracts below.
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Billings, A. et al., “The Games Through the NBC Lens: Gender, Ethnic, and National Equity in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (June 2008):
This study out of Clemson catalogued all commentary by NBC-affiliated personalities during the network’s prime-time coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Not only were men covered and mentioned more extensively (even when the women were more successful), but attributions of success and failure differed by gender, too. Male athletes were seen as more composed and intelligent in victory, and less committed in defeat. Female athletes were seen as more courageous in victory, and weaker athletes in defeat. The differences were more prevalent among on-site reporters than among the (more scripted) anchors. A similar pattern was found with regard to nationality. Americans were seen as having more concentration, composure, commitment, and courage in victory, while non-Americans were granted more athletic skill. The authors note that “parallels between long-held racial stereotypes (e.g., blacks being ‘born’ athletes and whites being superior intellectually) may transfer in similar ways within the domain of nationalism.”
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McGraw, P. et al., “Expectations and Emotions of Olympic Athletes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (July 2005) (pdf here):
After the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a team of psychologists published a widely cited study showing that Olympic athletes who had just won a bronze medal appeared to be happier than those who had just won a silver medal. The psychologists concluded that athletes’ emotional responses were not explained by missed expectations but, instead, by close-call counterfactuals: Bronze-medal winners were focused on the fact that they had come close to not winning a medal at all, while the silver-medal winners were focused on the fact that they had come close to winning a gold medal. After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, another team of psychologists updated these findings with a renewed emphasis on the role of prior expectations. They repeated the earlier study – but this time with Sydney athletes, and not just with bronze- and silver-medal winners – and found that performance, relative to media predictions or qualifying-event finishes, was the primary determinant of athletes’ emotions.