Culture shapes the winner

What does it take to win an Olympic gold medal? All people have theories and explanations. An article published in the current issue of Psychological Science analyzes two studies that observe the different theories. When American athletes and commentators explain exceptional performance, they emphasize the individual's athletic strength and skill (i.e. powerful feet, robotic stride, and mental toughness). The Japanese lean toward another formula where the athletes' training and preparation, like studying Judo since elementary school or overcoming previous athletic failures, are just as important. Japanese athletes and media are also more likely than Americans to think that the contribution of coaches and the athlete's emotional state are important factors in winning.

In the first study, analysis of media coverage of the 2000 and 2002 Olympics shows the difference in both Japanese and American views. In Japanese contexts, winning is a conjoined effort of the athletes' personal attributes, background, and social and emotional experience. In American contexts, performance is explained primarily through positive personal characteristics and features of the competition. In the second study participants chose information that they would want included in an athlete's profile. Differences in the perception of what made the athlete a winner are reflected in and fostered by common cultural products (e.g., television).

"By analyzing the products people make and consume (like media coverage), we find that people understand the 'same' world very differently," lead author Hazel Rose Markus states. "If we don't understand the context-specific theories or models that others are using… we are likely to seriously misunderstand the behavior of others."

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This study is published in the February issue of Psychological Science. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net

The flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society), Psychological Science publishes authoritative articles of interest across all of psychological science, including brain and behavior, clinical science, cognition, learning and memory, social psychology, and developmental psychology.

Lead author Hazel Rose Markus has been a professor of psychology at Stanford University since 1994. Her research focuses on the role of the self in regulating behavior and on the ways in which the self is shaped by the social world. She has written on self-schemas, possible selves, the influence of the self on the perception of others, and on the constructive role of the self in adult development. Dr. Markus is available for questions and interviews.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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