Social Psychology- Violence and Aggression in Sports

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Violence and Aggression in Sports
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What is Aggression?

“Any form of behaviour directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Richardson, 1994).


What is the criteria for aggression?

  • Aggression is a behaviour (physical and/or verbal)
  • It involves harm or injury
  • It is directed toward another humanbeing
  • It involves intent (or expectation that behaviour will result in injury)

What are the two types of aggression?

- Hostile Aggression (Reactive/Emotional)- The primary goal is to inflict injury or psychological harm to the other person.

- Instrumental Aggression - Aggressive behaviour which occurs in the quest of some non- aggressive goal.

- Neither type is acceptable


There are three related but different terms related to aggression, what are they?

Describe each one.

Assertion: forceful decisive action involving no intent to hard

Intimidation: verbal or physical behaviour that threatens violence; or a psychological consequence of aggression.

Deviance: behaviour that does not confirm to social expectations; or behaviour that violates the rules of a group or society (Leonard, 1997).


There are two ways to measure aggression, what are they? Give examples.

1. External Approach
– Direct observation of behaviour
– # of penalties (i.e., statistics)
(major limitation: play behind ref’s/observer’s back; and not knowing the ‘true’ intent of the actor)

2. Internal Approach

– Expressions of intent or desire to aggress (limitation: wanting to aggress, does not necessarily lead to an actual aggressive act).

– “Perceptions” of aggressive acts (i.e., legality)
• Males, higher level of competition, and team sport athletes are less likely to consider an act to be aggressive.

– Measures of aggressiveness (Athletic Aggression Inventory; Continuum of Injurious Acts)


Aggression can have consequences for?

a) The recipient of the aggression

b) The observer/spectator of the aggression

c) The aggressor

d) The sport


What are the consequences of aggression for the recipient?

1. Injury

2. Psychological Harm: Intimidation

3. Raises Arousal Level


What are the consequences of aggression for the spectator?

1. Entertainment

2. Learning (BOBO Doll experiment)

3. Fan Aggression

-Higher after watching aggressive sports compared to non-aggressive

-more likely to occur amongst younger people, disadvantaged males, in crowded conditions, when under the influence of alcohol, and during rivalries.


What are the consequences of aggression for the aggressor?

1. Injury

2. Penalization

- keeps the aggressor from playing

- dissatisfaction among players

- reduced group cohesion

3. Raises Arousal Level (Can get worked up)

4. Success/Failure


What effects could aggressive behaviour have on performance outcome in sport?

1. It could have a positive effect:
– if it weakened the opposition physically or psychologically – if it strengthened the aggressing team’s unity/cohesion
– if it raised the players arousal to optimal level

2. It could have a negative effect :
– if it penalized and/or injured the aggressing team – if it “woke up“ the opposition
– if it caused the opposition to unite

3. It could also have no effect!


What are the consequences of aggression for the sport?


  • Aggression hurts attendance?; or
  • Aggression helps attendance? Research Evidence:
  • No relationship between attendance and the amount ofaggression exhibited in the previous game (Hockey) THEREFORE
  • Aggression is likely to damage the sport’s image

Explain the instinct theory in relation to aggression in sport.

• Instinct Theory “He was born bad”

Premise = Aggression is innate
= We have death instinct and fighting instinct

Evidence = None

By 1930’s over 1000 instincts identified


Why Does Aggression Occur?

• Instinct Theory “He was born bad”

• Biological/Physiological Theories

• Social Learning Theory


Explain the Social Learning Theory in relation to aggression in sport.

• Social Learning Theory
“He learned that aggression pays”

Premise = By engaging in aggression one can obtain


Mechanisms = Learned through direct reinforcement (e.g., reward) or indirect/modeled behaviour (e.g., role models).


Explain the Biological/Physiological Theory in relation to aggression in sport.

• Biological/Physiological Theories
“He’s got bad blood in him”; “He’s a weirdo”

  • Premise = Because of blood chemistry and/or brain dysfunction individuals become aggressive
  • Evidence = Testosterone associated with aggression in males and athletes who use steroids. Also, individuals with brain tumours exhibit violent behaviour.
  • Problem = Doesn’t explain why an individual with a particular blood chemistry or brain dysfunction aggresses in one situation and not in another. Research does not support either of these two theories


1. The presence of certain stimuli

- The weapon effect

2. Characteristics of the target
If one is perceived as an enemy vs. one’s friend
If one is a member of a minority group
If one is deindividualized (someone with a face mask/shield) If one is a member of another team
If one is wearing black

3. Belonging to a group (e.g., gang, specific team)

-The bases could be diffusion of responsibility and/or group cohesion and/or group pressure

4. Presence of others
-Doesn’t detract, actually encourages


What is Frustrating to Athletes?

In University Hockey (Brice, 1990)
#1 = One’s own poor play (e.g., unforced errors)

In High School Sports (Sanzole, 1995)
#1 = One’s own mistakes
#2 = Not being able to perform ones skills

#3 = Mistakes of teammates

#4 = Opponent’s great play