We’ve written a lot on Cognitive Daily about the relationship between violent video game play and real-world aggressive behavior. While we feel the evidence showing that playing violent games does cause real aggression is compelling, a frequent critique of our analysis is that other activities, such as competitive sports, may also lead to violence. “Should we ban football?” the commenters opine. We’ve replied that football is a separate issue which doesn’t negate the video game evidence. (For the record, we don’t think we should ban violent video games, and the incidence of head injuries and steroid abuse in football is troubling enough that banning football might not be such a bad idea.)
But researchers on violence are certainly interested in causes other than violent media. Daniel Wann, for example, has overseen a series of studies on aggressive attitudes in sports fans. A 1999 survey found that basketball fans who identified with a particular team would be willing to injure the star of the rival team prior to the championship game, provided there was no chances of getting caught. A 2003 follow-up found that these fans would be willing to injure the rival team’s star or coach after the championship game: to act purely out of hostility, rather than in an attempt to help their own team.
Wann et al.’s most recent study attempts to uncover a relationship between winning or losing and willingness to commit hostile acts. They presented 120 college students with one of two hypothetical situations: imagine your favorite college basketball team has just won (or lost) a game with its biggest rival. This is the last game of the season, and there is no chance the teams will meet in the playoffs.
Respondents were then asked “if you could remain completely anonymous and there was no possibility of arrest or retaliation, would you…” trip, break the leg, or murder the star player or the coach of the rival team. They used a rating scale from 1 (definitely would not) to 8 (definitely would) to indicate the likelihood of committing each of the six possible hostile acts. They also filled out questionnaires to determine how much they identified with the college team, how big a basketball fan they were, and how big a sports fan they were.
While just 5 percent of respondents said they would murder an opposing player or coach, over 30 percent said they would consider tripping one or both. Further, there was a significant correlation between each imagined hostile act short of murder and level of identification with the team, even after controlling for basketball fandom (and, except in the case of breaking the coach’s leg, after controlling for general fandom as well). There were no significant differences in hostile acts between male and female respondents (though men tended to be bigger sports fans and basketball fans).
Overall, respondents were significantly more likely to consider a hostile act if their team had lost, rather than won the game. Wann et al. argue that this is consistent with the model of aggressive behavior which Craig Anderson developed to explain aggression in violent video gamers and other violent media consumers: frustration can lead to more aggressive behavior.
Wann, D.L., Culver, Z., Rubaba, A., Daglar, M., De Divitiis, & Smith, A. (2005). Journal of Sport Behavior, 28(3), 282-294.