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Athlete`s first reaction in victory is dominance: Study

Washington: An athlete`s initial and instinctive reaction on winning is not elation but one that displays dominance over their opponent, according to a new study.

Such body language, known as a "dominance threat display" and labelled as "triumph" in other studies, was observed in winners of Olympic and Paralympic judo matches.

It appears to be innate and stems from an evolutionary need to establish order and hierarchy in society, said David Matsumoto from the San Francisco State University.

In a previous study, Matsumoto and study co-author Hyisung Hwang also found that an athlete`s culture affects the intensity with which he or she displays this body language.

"Cultures that are more status oriented have individuals who produce these behaviours more than individuals who come from cultures that are more egalitarian," said Matsumoto.

In a previous study, observers labelled the body language of athletes seen in victorious poses as "triumph" and established triumph as potentially being a separate expression from pride, which requires more cognitive thinking and reflection.

The new study, however, is the first to ask whether expressions of triumph are the immediate reaction of an athlete following victory.

Hwang and Matsumoto looked at the first body motion made by an athlete upon learning they were victorious, determined whether that action was among those considered to constitute "triumph," and rated the intensity of the action on a five-point scale.

Actions considered triumphant included raising the arms above the shoulders, pushing the chest out, tilting the head back and smiling.

They were observed in winning athletes from all cultural backgrounds and even in blind Paralympic athletes, suggesting the behaviour is biologically innate.

"It is a very quick, immediate, universal expression that is produced by many different people, in many cultures, immediately after winning their combat," Matsumoto said.

"Many animals seem to have a dominant threat display that involves making their body look larger," said Matsumoto.

In another study, researchers compared intensity of an athlete`s expressions of triumph with their culture`s "power distance" (PD), a measurement that represents the degree to which a culture encourages or discourages power, status and hierarchical differences among groups.

Athletes from cultures with high PD produced such body language more than those from cultures with low PD.

Countries with high PD include Malaysia, Slovakia and Romania, while countries with low PD include Israel, Austria and Finland.

The US and UK fall in the middle of the PD spectrum, along with countries such as Hungary, Iran and Italy.

The study was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.