60-Second Science

Winning Athletes Engage in Arms Raise

Across cultures, victorious athletes raise their arms, puff out their chests and shout, in what appears to be a physical display of dominance. Erika Beras reports


You see it when you watch almost any game: there’s a touchdown, a home run, a goal. An athlete has triumphed! And then, almost instantly they raise their arms over their shoulders, shout aggressively and push out their chest. Like an animal in the wild or, according to a new study, like an athlete not simply winning, but also publicly asserting dominance. [Clip of Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman:] “Well, I’m the best corner in the game.”

Researchers examined footage of judo athletes from more than a dozen countries in Olympic competitions. Across cultures and genders, the athletes demonstrated similar victorious body language.

And lest you think the behavior is observed and learned, the researchers also looked at blind Para-Olympians—they too displayed many of those same actions, leading the investigators to conclude the behavior is innate. The study is in the journal Motivation and Emotion. [Hyisung C. Hwang and David Matsumoto, Dominance threat display for victory and achievement in competition context]

The researchers say the victorious body language, known as “dominance threat display,” may stem from an evolutionary need to display order. As in who gets to do the ordering. [Sherman:] “Don’t you ever talk about me.”

—Erika Beras

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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