Aggression in Sport
Daniel L Wann
The Lancet. London: Dec 2005. Vol. 366 pg. S31, 2 pgs
Although there are many positive aspects to sport participation - as a player or spectator - athletic events are also often allied with aggressive behaviour. Defined as the intention to physically, verbally, or psychologically harm someone who is motivated to avoid such treatment, aggression can be either hostile or instrumental. Hostile aggression refers to actions that are motivated by anger and that are intended solely to harm someone. Thus, with this form of aggression, the perpetrator simply wants the victim to suffer - eg, a soccer player deliberately and illegally tripping an opponent with the sole purpose of injuring that person. In instrumental aggression, however, harmful actions have a purpose over and above that of wounding another player. Athletes might, for instance, attempt to injure an opponent because they believe that doing so will increase their chances of victory. In sport, research has focused mainly on the aggressive actions of three groups of individuals: athletes, spectators, and parents at youth sporting events (panel). 2.
Research into player aggression has identified several factors that might promote violence. Heat is an example; as temperatures rise, tempers flare. In baseball, this association leads to more batters being hit by pitches on hot match days than on cold days. A second situational determinant of player aggression is the point differential between two teams, with the highest degrees of aggression arising when teams are separated by a wide scoring margin. Furthermore, players on winning and losing teams exhibit different patterns of aggression as a game progresses. Hence, the aggressive behaviour of those on winning teams increases consistently throughout the contest, whereas individuals on losing teams are especially aggressive at the beginning of a game, and less so towards the midpoint of the competition. Presumably, athletes in the unsuccessful teams conclude that their aggressive actions are not effective and, consequently, switch to less aggressive strategies in an attempt to perform better. Finally, possibly because of frustration, a team's position in the overall league affects the degree of individual player aggression. Indeed, teams that come first tend to exhibit lower amounts of aggression than the frustrated teams who have to be content with second place and those who come last and who find it hard to justify to themselves their overall poor performance. 3.
With respect to spectators, heat, modelling of player violence, and the consumption of alcohol all affect the extent of aggressive behaviour. Results of research done over the past 15 years indicate, however, that team identification - ie, the extent to which a spectator feels a psychological connection to a team and its players - is the greatest predictor of fan aggression. For those fans who identify strongly, their team's loss is felt as their own. Consequently, all their reactions, including aggression, are intense. Three types of aggression are affected by high degrees of team identification: hostile aggression, instrumental aggression (eg, willingness to injure apposing players and coaches, or to yell obscenities at officials, etc, to intimidate their team's opponent), and fan rioting. It is noteworthy, however, that not all instances of instrumental aggression among fervent fans are designed to assist the team. In some instances, the reward for the aggressive behaviour is not team success but rather a restoration of psychological health. Deep-seated and indifferent fans react differently to poor team performance. Fans low in team identification tend to distance themselves from the team, thereby protecting their mental health. Highly identified fans are, however, not able to dissociate from the team because their role of team follower is too central to their identity. As a result, their collective - ie, group or social...
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