The Olympics

My last posts have used the analogy of food and kitchens, to (rather tenuously) lead the way into a summary of the kind of things the MMPL discusses, in our weekly meetings on the 6th floor of the Redmond Barry building at The University of Melbourne. (Find us here !)

In this post I thought I'd try to stretch the conceptual link even further, by talking about the Olympics. The Olympics is about sports, right, and sport is a kind of exercise, and exercise forms part of a healthy lifestyle, and so does nutritious food, whether it be food for thought or food for the body. (Oh, and what about "food for the soul?" I'm clearly onto something here.)

So, the Olympics. I know it’s a little while since it finished, but on this site we'd like to occasionally comment on contemporary events, and respond to issues that emerge out of politics or society in general. And the Olympics is a contemporary event, one with a long and rich history. As it involves humans competing and cooperating, it is also a great source of hypotheses about human behaviour and psychology. I'm not the only one who's made this connection, so below is an outline of the many and imaginative ways that the Olympics and psychology have been linked.

First, just to get it out of the way, the seminal Olympic finding – silver medalists have been found to be less happy than bronze medalists. Then, this post from Psychology Today talked about sports psychology in general, and the idea of “flow”. Meanwhile, this article about Britain’s tennis player Andy Murray touches on a number of topics; “winning streaks”, playing in front of a home crowd, the mood congruence effect, and “collective mindsets” (which sounds vaguely Jungian). I’m surprised the Yerkes-Dodson curve didn’t rate a mention as well, as surely there would be some interesting correlations to be made between the difficultly of the sport and the benefit of cheering.

We’ve all seen the photos of beach volleyballers and other sports bottoms, and it’s well established that a focus on appearance leads to dehumanization (at least for women). On the other hand, when it comes to the benefit of clothing, The Guardian has this article about dressing to win. This well written post from mindhacks adds more nuance and a bit of science to the discussion.

The link between psychology and Olympics that I least expected, though, came from badminton. Honestly, I never would have thought I’d see The Prisoners’ Dilemma played out on a badminton court. But, when two women’s doubles teams playing against each other, both tried to lose the game because they wanted to be in a better position (against a weaker opponent) in a later round. Because neither side would give up their oh-so-clever strategy, both sides were disqualified. (Watch it in (in)action here.)

I guess in their defence, we can say that when it comes to the Olympics, the most important thing is not to win, but to participate. And guess what? The same goes for the MMPL! We want you to participate – and this page shows you how. Even better, every research participant gets a gold medal* from a very grateful PhD student, which means you can both participate and WIN.


*this is also a metaphor for something.

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