Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Triumph

What is it, what causes it, and what are its impacts?


Figure 1. Triumph on display

Imagine you are involved in a race, it may be running, on a bike, swimming, or even all three as part of a triathlon. Now consider after months of training and hard work, you win that race. What is your initial behavioural response? It will most likely be forming a fist, raising your hands, opening your mouth and putting your head back, as seen in figure 1. This initial response to victory in a competitive situation is the emotional reaction known as triumph. This display of victory is a signal to others of the individual's victory, dominance and social power over the defeated individual/s.

This chapter focuses on this unique and cognitively complex emotion. It unpacks what triumph is, what causes it and what it's impacts are. It is important to identify causes and impacts as it provides an avenue for understanding the positive and negative effects of triumph.

What is triumph?Edit

[Provide more detail]


Triumph can be understood as the set of victory signals that are displayed after winning an agonistic encounter that is performed by only the winner in the competitive context (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014). Triumph is typically displayed through non-verbal actions (face and gestures) and voice (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014). The face expresses a grimace or aggression, the head is forward or with a direct gaze or tilted back, arms raised above the shoulders making a fist, the chest and torso pushed out, mouth open, and shouting (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012). There[grammar?] behaviours make the body appear larger and communicates dominance to generate fear in others (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012). Thus, triumph signals to others the individual's ability to win and overcome disputes. It also augments the results of the win, intimidates others and enhances feelings of power. This prepares the individual for future confrontations and establishes their position within a hierarchy (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).

Related constructsEdit

Pride is an emotion similar to triumph. They both relate in terms of what precedes the emotions; victory or success. While this is similar, they differ in terms of behavioural expression, what they reflect and their function. The behavioural differences can be seen in table 1. In relation to what they reflect, pride comes from a successful evaluation of an action or body of work - it is an evaluation of the self. Therefore it functions as a way to make the person feel good about themselves (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012). Triumph, on the other hand, is a social display of dominance. Hence, it functions as a way to establish a position of power within a hierarchy (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014 b). Given these differences, triumph is more similar to hubristic pride, rather than authentic pride, as it does not seek to put others in their place (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012)[clarification needed].

Table 1.

Overview of behaviours associated with triumph and pride

Behaviours associated with pride and triumph
Area Pride Triumph
Face Small smile Grimace or aggressivness
Head Tilted back Forward with direct gaze or tilted back/up
Posture Torso out, chest expanded Torso out, chest expanded
Arms Away from body Raised above the shoulders or in a punching motion
Hands Open In fists, thumbs up, or clap
Voice None Shout or utterance

Source: Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012

Case study:

Imagine your behavioural response to getting a good grade, or winning a race. If you get a good grade and evaluate the self positively, you will express the behaviour related to pride.

Presentation in other speciesEdit

Figure 2. Animal display of dominance

Hierarchies exist not just in human societies - they can also be found in primates and other animals. Primates display some behavioural aspects of triumph (de Waal, 1989). Primates display an expansion of their body, a grimacing face and vocal signals when in antagonistic situations. Further, male blue penguins engage in vocal exchanges that provoke aggression via taunting and threatening other males (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014 b). Expression of dominance is needed for the establishment of hierarchies. As such, triumph becomes mechanism used by animals, such as primates, to display and express dominance (Hwang et al., 2021). Figure 2 shows two birds engaging in a fight. One can be seen expressing aggression and displaying dominance.

What causes triumph?Edit

Triumph is evoked by achievement in a competitive event. The highly competitive event is associated with strong motivations for winning and achievement. It also involves unpredictability, risk, and anxiety and tension for control over psychological instability (Hwang et al., 2021). While this process may seem straightforward, there are three variables of note that underlie what causes triumph.

Underlying variablesEdit

The three underlying variables are hierarchies, culture and evolutionary function. Hierarchies and evolutionary function influence why triumph happens, culture, on the other hand, effects[grammar?] the expression of triumph.

Hierarchies and evolutionary functionEdit

Hierarchies are necessary for societal function. Because of this need, it is important to have a mechanism capable of establishing one. Triumph serves as one method of establishing hierarchies (Hwang et al., 2021). Since triumph is capable of establishing hierarchies, the emotion is expressed as way of doing so. The display of dominance works as a way of communication. It facilitates stability and control within a hierarchy. This need for triumph to establish hierarchies is also seen in other species, including our close relatives - primates (Hwang et al., 2021). This species universal need may suggest that triumph could be an evolutionary function to allow species to prosper. Triumph could also be an evolutionary function because it has been observed in blind athletes. Blind athletes after winning an agonistic competition (judo match) show the emotions of triumph. They raise there[grammar?] arms, form fists, tilt their head back and shout. The blind athletes would never have seen the emotion expressed in others, suggesting it could be innate (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014b). For this emotion to be innate, it could possibly serve as an evolutionary function. This evolutionary, innate origin serves as an additional reason for why triumph may be expressed. Without the innate origin and need for hierarchies, triumph would serve no purpose at all and therefore the emotion of triumph may not be expressed or experienced.

Case study:

Imagine you win a competition. Does the behavioural response of triumph come fast and natural? It most likely does, it even would if you were blind! This is because triumph is an innate emotion that has an evolutionary background.


Not all cultures place the same value on hierarchies. Cultures differ in the degree to which they encourage or discourage power, status and hierarchies. They also differ in terms of how less powerful individuals and groups accept and respond to inequality (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014a). This relates to the concept of Power Distance (PD). For example, egalitarian cultures (low PD), try to minimise power differences. They relate to each other more as equals, while hierarchical or status orientated cultures (high PD) do the opposite - more power is given to individuals in different groups (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014a). This concept of PD is related to the expressivity of triumph. In a study conducted by Hwang and Matsumoto (2014a), it was found that winners (of judo competitions) from higher PD countries expressed triumph more than winners from lower PD countries. This suggests that culture plays a role in the expression of triumph as it differs depending on the dominance and hierarchy levels within a culture (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014a).

Case study:

Imagine two people from different cultures, one from Japan, and one from Australia. These two people compete in a competition and both win. There[grammar?] expression of triumph will be different based on the fact they were raised in different cultures.

What are its impacts?Edit

Triumph has a range of impacts. Triumph helps to establish hierarchies. It does this by displaying dominance and aggression (Hwang et al., 2021). This display communicates the winners of competition, thus giving recognition to individuals with power to establish a hierarchy. This then has a positive flow-on effect of group stability (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014a). In addition, it has an impact on the individual that[grammar?] won. It enhances the winners[grammar?] reputation, establishes their position and intimidates others in case of further confrontation (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014a; Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012). This advantageous impact also seems to translate to other environments and situations, such as in learning (Bellocchi & Ritchie, 2015) and when thinking about it (Lyubomirsky et al., 2006).


Bellocchi and Ritchie (2015) conducted a study looking at the experiences of triumph when learning science. Through student reports and observations, it was found that triumph was related to understanding concepts, social status, and achievement in challenging tasks. They found that students felt it was important to achieve challenging tasks because it led to the experience of triumph. This experience of triumph gave students a perception of feeling like a capable science student. When they expressed triumph, it demonstrated their understanding of science. As such, it increased their status, as it does following an agonistic victory. Bellocchi and Ritchie demonstrated that triumph is a productive emotion and facilitates learning (as long as the norms of the group allow it). Another finding was that negative emotions occasionally precede triumph. Students would experience sadness and anxiety prior to success, which then elicited triumph. Therefore, the emotion of triumph also acts a way of fortifying the individual in the classroom (e.g., for future assessment) as it also does in agonistic competitions (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2014a; Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).

Thinking about triumphEdit

The impact of triumph can also be found when thinking about postive[spelling?] life events. Lyubomirsky et al. (2006) conducted a study evaluting[spelling?] the impact of this. It was found that thinking about a triumphant event was associated with higher life satisfaction. Thinking about postive[spelling?] events enhanced postive[spelling?] affect in the long term and even decreased pain to an extent. They suggest that thinking about happy events seems to perpetuate postive[spelling?] emotions. Interestingly, writing while analysing about happy moments actually led to negative outcomes. That is, it was associated with reduced personal growth, self-acceptance, general health, and physical functioning. Thus, reliving a triumphant experience, rather than overthinking it, allows an individual to savour the moment and to capitalize on it. In addition, the lack of analysis helps an individual retain mystery and thrill surrounded by it. Overall, these findings suggest that thinking about triumph serves to maintain postive[spelling?] emotions and therefore contributing to an individuals[grammar?] physical and emotional well-being (Lyubomirsky et al., 2006).


Triumph is an emotion that aids in maintaining or establishing hierachies[spelling?]. The behavourial[spelling?] expression caused by the emotion involves expansive body movements, such as raised arms with fists and an open mouth, accompanied by a grimmacing[spelling?] face and shouting. This emotion has been found to not be uniquely human. It has been observed in primates and other animals. The cause of triumph is underlied by three variables[Provide more detail]. These three variables effect why and how it is expressed.

The impact of triumph goes beyond simply maintaining or establishing hierachies[spelling?]. It has a postive[spelling?] effect in learning and on well-being when thinking about it. Understanding that triumph can be used to have postive[spelling?] outcomes in other environments highlights its importance as an emotion. It clearly helps students to learn, participate and grow. It also helps people increase their postive[spelling?] affect by reliving the triumphant moment. Knowing that triumph has these impacts is important: it stimulates the need for further research into its impacts in other environments and scenarios. However, until then, this knowledge can be applied to what already works.

To conclude, let us take on the world with our heads up and our shoulders back, and be triumphant.

See alsoEdit


Bellocchi, A., & Ritchie, S. M. (2015). “I was proud of myself that I didn't give up and I did it”: experiences of pride and triumph in learning science. Science Education, 99(4), 638-668.

de Waal, F. (1989). Chimpanzee politics: Power and sex among apes. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hwang, H. C., et al. (2021). Antecedents and Appraisals of Triumph across Four Countries. Cross-Cultural Research, 55(2-3), 209-229.

Hwang, H. C., & Matsumoto, D. (2014a). Cultural differences in victory signals of triumph. Cross-Cultural Research, 48(2), 177-191.

Hwang, H. C., & Matsumoto, D. (2014b). Dominance threat display for victory and achievement in competition context. Motivation and Emotion, 38(2), 206-214. DOI 10.1007/s11031-013-9390-1

Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. S. (2012). Evidence for a nonverbal expression of triumph. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(5), 520-529.

External linksEdit