Live revision! Join us for our free exam revision livestreams Watch now


Silver Medal is Psychologically the Worst Medal Position

Joseph Sparks

17th August 2016

Every four years I find myself watching sports that I have no particular interest in and this year’s Rio Olympics has been particularly compelling.

On Day 9, Great Britain picked up several medals, including a Gold and Silver Medal in the Men’s pommel horse. Following the event, the press didn’t focus on Max Whitlock’s Gold Medal, but rather Louis Smith who achieved the Silver. While it’s true that Louis didn’t look particularly happy with his achievement and was pictured in tears on many websites including the DigitalSpy website who reported the story, you can’t blame him. To train for another four years and briefly be in the top position in-line for a Gold Medal when your own teammate knocks you into the Silver Medal position. I know I’d be angry…

Psychologists have now explained why many Silver Medalists like Louis are devastated with their achievements, using a process called ‘counterfactual thinking’.

While ‘counterfactual thinking’ might sound like a complex Psychological phenomenon, it is essentially playing the ‘what if’ game. What if I had trained harder? What if I had worked on my landing? What if the judges didn’t score me accurately? Gilovick et al (1995) examined the idea of counterfactual thinking in the 1992 Olympics, where they examined video footage from the medal ceremonies and asked participants to rate the happiness of the Gold, Silver and Bronze medalist’s faces on a scale of 1 being ‘agony’ and 10 being ‘ecstasy’. The results found that the Silver medalists had an average score of 4.8 in comparison to bronze medalists who scores 7.1. Psychologists suggest that these results are because Brzone medalists are happy to have achieved a medal and not come fourth whereas Silver medalists are stuck in an endless cycle of counterfactual thinking as they were so close to the top spot.

Reference: Houghton, R. (2016, August 17). Louis Smith hits back at people saying he's a bad sport as he congratulates Max Whitlock on Twitter. Retrieved from Digital Spy:

Daily Digest

To keep up-to-date with the tutor2u Psychology team, follow us on Twitter @tutor2uPsych, Facebook (AQA) / OCR or subscribe to the Psychology Daily Digest and get new content delivered to your inbox!

Joseph Sparks

Joseph is a Subject Advisor for Psychology at tutor2u. He is an experienced Psychology & Music Teacher, Writer, Examiner and Presenter. He is currently completing a Professional Doctorate in Education and is passionate about the impact of technology on teaching and learning.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.