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Aggression in Sport. Hagger & Chatzisarantis, Chapter 8, pages 193-208. Aggression in Sport. Aggression is often displayed in sport and sometimes boils over into unmitigated displays of violence

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Aggression in sport

Aggression in Sport

Hagger & Chatzisarantis, Chapter 8, pages 193-208

Aggression in sport1
Aggression in Sport

  • Aggression is often displayed in sport and sometimes boils over into unmitigated displays of violence

  • Often implicitly or explicitly advocated by spectators, coaches etc. and cite reasonable provocation or justification

  • Much media attention places on displays of aggression, usually with ‘high moral ground’

Aggression in sport2
Aggression in Sport

  • Why do players resort to aggression and violent conduct when they know they will be penalised?

  • Why do coaches defend their players when they can clearly see that such aggression is counter-productive?

  • What role does the media play in perpetuating such aggression?

What is aggression
What is Aggression?

  • Violent or aggravated behaviours are not necessarily ‘aggression’ e.g., angry gestures, equipment ‘abuse’

  • Aggression is a set of behaviours that are likely to, or have the potential to, cause harm to others, are intended to cause harm, and are goal-directed (Berkowitz, 1993)

Aggression in sport3
Aggression in Sport

  • Coaches often want players to display more ‘aggression’ in their play – what they actually mean, in psychological terms, is they want to see more assertive behaviours

  • Assertive behaviours reflect behaviours that are physically vociferous, but do not contravene rules nor do they have the intent to harm, rather they are aimed at imposing influence and dominance

Aggression in sport4
Aggression in Sport

  • Someassertive behaviours

    are tolerated by officials in

    sports such as the ‘Haka’-

    the provocative display

    performed by the NZ ‘all blacks’

    rugby team

  • Other behaviours that are violent but are neither assertive (aim to influence/dominate) nor aggressive (intent to harm) are not tolerated e.g., bad language, equipment abuse

Types of aggression
Types of Aggression

Two types of aggression (Silva, 1980):

  • Hostile aggression: Has the primary goal of injuring another person or player e.g., response to provocation, high emotional arousal, usually spontaneous

  • Instrumental aggression: Has intent to harm another but with the superordinate goal to achieve an outcome that is beneficial to the player or the team e.g., planned or calculated aggressive acts

Types of aggression1
Types of Aggression

  • Hostile aggression: Supersedes other goals of the sport such as scoring points or goals and usually distracts players from their role in the team

  • E.g. Roy Keane (2001) “I’d waited long enough. I hit him f***ing hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that, you c***. I didn’t wait for Mr Elleray to show the card. I turned and walked to the dressing room”

Types of aggression2
Types of Aggression

Assertive behaviour

1. No intent to harm

2. Legitimate force

3. Unusual effort and

energy expenditure



1. Intent to harm

2. Goal to win

3. No anger

Hostile aggression

1. Intent to harm

2. Goal to harm

3. Unusual effort and

energy expenditure

Source: Silva (1980)

Types of aggression3
Types of Aggression

  • Silva’s (1980) model illustrates the core features of each type of aggression

  • Also illustrates that there is some ‘ambiguity’ in all three

  • Such definitions do not encapsulate all instances of aggressive or assertive type of behaviour

  • Gamesmanship: performing behaviours that are not illegitimate according to the rules but are considered ‘unsportspersonlike’

  • E.g. tennis coach instructing players to hit the ball at the opponent, ‘sledging’ in cricket

Theories of aggression
Theories of Aggression

1. Frustration-aggression hypothesis (Dollard et al., 1939)

  • Aggression the product of an ‘anger response’ to the frustration of goals and desires

  • Aggression directed to perceived source of frustration

  • e.g. hockey player’s aim of scoring goals is frustrated due to lack of service from her wing-players but also marked out of the game by opponents – may lead her to assault the marking defender out of frustration

  • However, competitive environs lead to lots of frustration but seldom is that expressed in terms of aggression

Bobo doll experiment
Bobo doll experiment

  • Bandura et al. (1961): Children watched an adult playing with ‘Bobo doll’ (5-foot inflated plastic doll).

Theories of aggression1
Theories of Aggression

2. Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977, 1997)

  • Observational learning (imitation and vicarious experience) during childhood may contribute to violent actions (c.f. Bobo doll experiments)

  • Explained the social circumstances under which violent/aggressive acts might arise

  • Factors include:

    • Past experience of aggressive behaviour (personal and observed)

    • Previous ‘success’ with aggressive behaviours in terms of fulfilling personal goals

    • The expected pattern of reinforcement of aggression – rewarded or punished?

    • Psychological (e.g., personality), personal (e.g., verbal encouragement), and environmental (e.g., presence of significant others) factors

  • More comprehensive that frustration-aggression because it charts the development and conditions under which aggression occurs

  • Theories of aggression2
    Theories of Aggression

    Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977, 1997)

    • Application of theory: Russell (1979) hero selection in fans

    • Interviews and archival data found that goals scored but also penalties conceded were influential in selection

    • Influence of penalties suggested that aggressive behaviours were viewed positively by fans

    • Media coverage perhaps enhanced this ‘reputation’ which made such behaviours integral to perceived success

    • BUT – no link between aggressive displays in supported teams and aggressive behaviour in fans

    Theories of aggression3
    Theories of Aggression

    Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977, 1997)

    • Connelly (1988) suggests that modeling aggressive behaviours may help non-assertive players

    • But these need to be checked with distinctions between legitimate, goal-directed and assertive behaviours and aggressive behaviours (c.f. Silva’s (1980) model)

    • Modeling may therefore help coaches enhance the assertiveness of players, but should be used in conjunction with education and information on the distinction between aggressive and assertive behaviours

    Theories of aggression4
    Theories of Aggression

    3. Personality and Individual Differences

    • Little evidence that one single personality trait that characterises an ‘aggressive personality’

    • Agreeableness consistently and negatively linked with aggression

    • Agreeableness: personality dimension linked to maintaining positive and harmonious social relationships

    • Zuckerman et al. (1993) isolated an aggressiveness/hostility personality trait

    • No link between this trait and aggressive behaviours in sport

    Theories of aggression5
    Theories of Aggression

    Personality and Individual Differences

    • Type ‘A’ personalities: Highly competitive, driven, extrovert individuals

    • Type ‘A’ personalities tend to be attracted to sport (Biasi, 1999)

    • Some evidence type ‘A’ is related to displays of aggression and hostility in competitive situations

    • Situational factors (e.g., competitive or frustrating environment) may interact with personality factors like type ‘A’ to foster aggressive behaviour

    • But in many sports (e.g., dancing) no extrovert or aggressive behaviours are observed as emotionality and aggressive displays are perceived as signs of weakness (group norm)

    • Personality effects criticised as they tend to downplay the situation

    • Social cognitive variables such as group norms, group cohesion and self-efficacy can mitigate personality effects

    Factors influencing aggression
    Factors Influencing Aggression

    The Cathartic Hypothesis

    • Catharsis: The feeling of release after an emotion-expressing experience

    • Often thought that aggression assists in this process helping express ‘pent-up’ frustration

    • Often held belief that aggression in sport serves a cathartic purpose is the cathartic hypothesis

    • This belief is prevalent e.g. Wann et al. (1999) found that viewers of aggressive sports believed that this made them personally less aggressive

    • Sports coaches and school teachers also found to believe that sports with ‘aggressive characteristics’ are healthy due to their cathartic nature

    Factors influencing aggression1
    Factors Influencing Aggression

    The Cathartic Hypothesis

    • Little evidence to support the cathartic hypothesis

    • Evidence suggests that exposure to aggressive sports does not reduce aggressive displays elsewhere, but may increase it

    • Bushman et al. (1999):

      • Gave students a pro-catharsis essay

      • Essay subjected to criticism by another unseen student (actually the researcher)

      • Participants were more likely to choose a punch-bag task afterwards and administer punishment to the other student afterwards

  • Cathartic hypothesis is a belief rather than an effect (Bennett, 1991)

  • Factors influencing aggression2
    Factors Influencing Aggression


    • Men are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviour (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996)

    • Men are also more likely to display aggressive attitudes and beliefs (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993)

    Factors influencing aggression3
    Factors Influencing Aggression

    Gender differences in US crime statistics

    Factors influencing aggression4
    Factors Influencing Aggression


    • Men are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviour (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996)

    • Men are also more likely to display aggressive attitudes and beliefs (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993)

    • This may be due to:

      • Elevated levels of androgens (e.g., testosterone)

      • Evolutionary benefit to aggression in terms of status and dominance

      • Socialisation of aggressive tendencies during development

  • Majority of aggressive acts in sport are committed by men and it is more endorsed by men (Tucker & Parks, 2001; Rainey, 1986)

  • Factors influencing aggression5
    Factors Influencing Aggression


    • Young girls tend to express higher levels of moral behaviour in sport and rate such behaviours as more virtuous (Stephens & Bredemeier, 1996)

    • Females do endorse aggressive behaviours if the group norm endorses it (Tucker & Parks, 2001)

    • Females are much less likely to engage in verbal and physical aggressive behaviour than men

    • BUT are equally likely to engage in verbal assault as men (Harris, 1992)

    Factors influencing aggression6
    Factors Influencing Aggression

    Morality Issues

    • Social identity theory states that people in groups tend to forgo their personal attitudes and beliefs and assume those of the group – they adhere to the group norm and become ‘deindividuated’

    • Bredemeier and Shields (1986) suggest that sports players in teams can adopt a ‘bracketed morality’ in which the “usual moral obligation to equally consider the need and desires of all persons is suspended”

    • In the group aggressive acts can therefore be tolerated or condoned if the norm permits it

    • Bredemeier and Shields (1986) found basketball players gave fewer prosocial and more egocentric reasons to moral dilemmas in sport

    Factors influencing aggression7
    Factors Influencing Aggression


    • Arousal is heightened with physical exertion and remains elevated for a while thereafter

    • Evidence suggests that such arousal may be misinterpreted as anger or frustration c.f. Zillman et al.’s (1974) cycling experiment

    • Feelings of anger may be elevated in intense sports and, if the group norm legitimises it, may be expressed as aggression

    Factors influencing aggression8
    Factors Influencing Aggression

    Hormones and Steroid Abuse

    • One side effect of misuse of steroids for performance enhancement is aggressive behaviour

    • There is a clear link between aggressive behaviour and steroid abuse (Pope & Katz, 1994)

    • This is particularly the case if the steroid mimics the androgen testosterone, which itself is linked with aggression (van Goozen et al., 1994)

    • Likely to be a small contributing factor but may interact with situational factors result in aggressive behaviour in sport

    Collective aggression
    Collective Aggression

    • Collective aggressive behaviour is prevalent in sport, particularly among crowds of spectators or fans

    • In certain sports seems to be very prevalent e.g. association football but some sports are almost completely immune e.g. cricket

    • Sport is ingrained in the social fabric and groups of fans mood and emotions, motivation, and personal relationships seem to be ensconced in the fortunes of their supported team (e.g., Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch)

    Collective aggression1
    Collective Aggression

    • Fernquist (2000) found a direct negative correlation between homicide and suicide rates and success in local sports teams in US cited between 1971 and 1990

    • Suggested ‘broken promises’ theory – frustration of unfulfilled hopes of sports teams lead to social manifestations of those negative emotions


    • Collective aggression: Violent, unified behaviours displayed by a group or crowd of people with intent to cause harm or injury to another group or individual

    • Crowd violence: A form of collective aggression among sports supporters or fans

    • Hooliganism: Crowd violence often among fans or supporters of association football teams in Europe

    Theoretical accounts of collective aggression
    Theoretical Accounts of Collective Aggression

    Social Identity Theory:

    • Aims to describe the mechanisms by which groups influence individuals behaviour

    • Individuals forgo their individual identity and assume the attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and norms of the group = deindividuation

    • As group members self-esteem is tied in with the fate of the group = a threat to the group is a threat to each individual

    • Individuals self-stereotype themselves as typical group members

    • Members from the ingroup (‘us’) are viewed unequivocally positively and outgroups (‘them’) likely to be viewed negatively

    • This can lead to prejudice and discrimination towards outgroup members

    Collective aggression and social identity
    Collective aggression and social identity

    “I didn’t look hard, in truth: I was nowhere near as big as I should have been, and wore black framed Brains-style National Health reading glasses… But those who mumble about the loss of identity that football fans must endure miss the point: this loss of identity can be a paradoxically enriching process. Who wants to be stuck with who they are all the time? I for one wanted time out from being a jug-eared, bespectacled, suburban twerp once in a while…I knew it wasn’t me that made people hurry to the other side of the road, it was us, and I was part of us, an organ in the hooligan body.”

    Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch, 1992

    Social identity theory
    Social Identity Theory

    • Deindividuation occurs as group members assume the attributes of prototypical group members (e.g. Nick Hornby’s account)

    • Individuals behave less as individuals and more as group members

    • May result in the expression of values and behaviours not normally expressed as individuals (Reicher et al., 1985)

    • Individual responsibility for actions is reduced as anonymity is pronounced in a group situation (Mann, 1981)

    Social identity theory1
    Social Identity Theory

    • In sports situations violence is seldom seen, aggressive behaviours (threats and displays) are often sufficient to galvanize ingroup cohesiveness and self-esteem

    • Stott et al. (2001) examined aggression and violence at Euro 2000 association football tournament

    • Collective aggression determined by context (confrontation with outgroup – opposition fans) and collective norms (shared attitudes towards opposition fans)

    • Stott (2001) suggests that the relationship between collective identity and the environment is reciprocal – it is partly determined by context

    • Can result in an escalation of aggressive displays which might lead to actual displays of violence