Cognitive Daily

i-eca0cf2af9fc3ac4445c7dff7d8aab70-research.gifWhen Jim and Nora talk about the social groups in their school, they matter-of-factly categorize almost every fellow student into stereotyped pigeonholes. There are the nerds, the rockers, the cools, the goths, and of course, the jocks.

The assumption, naturally, is that none of these groups intersect. Jocks are dumb, nerds are smart, and cools could be smart if they cared about grades. But what of this “dumb jock” stereotype? Does it actually pan out in real life?

Herbert Marsh and Sabina Kleitman have conducted an exhaustive study of the records of over 12,000 American students, following each student for seven years, from eighth grade to the second year after graduation. Previous studies had shown trends that contradicted the dumb jock stereotype, but they suffered from methodological flaws. They tended to study only a cross-section of data, or a limited geographical region. It’s possible that good students tend to participate in sports, rather than the sports themselves leading to academic success.

Marsh and Kleitman claim that their study resolves some, but not all of these methodological problems. Though a longitudinal design — following the same students for many years — can show if a student’s academic success is associated with athletic participation, it still can’t demonstrate that some other factor isn’t responsible for both athletic participation and academic success. It can, however, control for many other factors, such as race, socio-economic status, parents’ educational level, and even earlier academic success. Marsh and Kleitman controlled for dozens of such factors, and still found a significant — though small — positive correlation between athletic participation and academic achievement.

Achievement can be measured in many ways — grades, homework, attendance, standardized test scores, and enrollment in college. In all of these areas except standardized test scores, even after controlling for economic status, race, and other background variables, athletic participation was significantly correlated to academic achievement. Even after controlling for academic success in 8th and 10th grade, athletic participation was still associated with positive academic outcomes in 13 out of 21 measures in 12th grade and 2 years out of high school. This suggests that athletic participation itself may be responsible for some academic achievement — the later achievement isn’t completely explained by earlier academic success.

But what if a student is overcommitted — if he or she participates too heavily in sports, won’t grades suffer? Not according to Marsh and Kleitman’s data: only one measure, number of college applications submitted, was negatively associated with extremely high athletic participation.

One important point to realize is that all of these correlations are extremely small, with beta values typically less than 0.1. This means that less than 3 percent of variance in academic performance can be explained by athletic participation. So simply encouraging athletic participation is not likely to lead to a very large increase in academic performance.

Even with these small effects, however, Marsh and Kleitman were able to make some more specific statements about the relationship between athletics and academics. Competing with other schools had a larger impact than intramural sports. Team sports had stronger associations with academics than individual sports.

Marsh and Kleitman had hoped to find some other connections between sports and academics. For example, some schools claim that athletics can help lower-performing students increase their self esteem and connect school with a source of pride, eventually leading to better academics. But the data did not support this claim: lower-performing students showed the same academic gains due to sports participation as everyone else.

But back to the “dumb jock” stereotype: with more and more studies demonstrating that athletic participation is associated with higher academic performance, why does the stereotype persist? I have some ideas of my own, but I’d like to hear yours first. Let us know in the comments.

Marsh, H.W., & Kleitman, S. (2003). School athletic participation: Mostly gain with little pain. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 25, 205-228.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    August 15, 2006

    Interesting information, and backs up my family’s personal experience as well. So why the “dumb jock” stereotype? I am guessing it is a hold-over from a by-gone era, when coaches could impact a student’s grades and they were able to select players by size. IMO, sports are less about size now, and more about speed, quickness, and agility. The characteristics that are perceived to make a good athlete now, as opposed to years ago, are also characteristics that are enhanced by quick wits and thinking.

    My kids play(ed) varsity baseball, softball and basketball, so I can’t speak regarding football, but NONE of their teammates, at any level, were dumb jocks! My son’s basketball feeder team has 3 players that are in advanced math, and of the Academic Top 25 students (of a 500 student senior population) in my daughter’s graduating class, were 5 teammates. Of course, we are talking suburban, not city population too, so that skews the results, and the schools hosts an Awards Dinner for the Top 25 Academic Kids too.

    I am happy they have the opportunity to play sports at a high level, and as your study indicates, I think it helped them connect with teachers, other kids and themselves and encouraged them to perform at a peak level.

    To talk about “Dumb Jocks” is just soooo last century!

  2. #2 Cynthia
    August 15, 2006

    When I hear the term Jock, I think of football player/fratboy. The athletic high-achievers were not Jocks (at least when I was growing up), but Preps or milk-drinkers as my sister called them.

  3. #3 kevin v
    August 15, 2006

    more interesting to me would be an investigation into in the intelligence and/or scholastic performance of the top-performing elite athletes. Part of the stereotype persists, I think, because of the state of D-I collegiate athletics and repeated, repeated, repeated cases of elite basketball and football programs having academic problems.

    I would guess that the borderline significant correlations Marsh and Kleitman found arise because of the dilution of the study pools. Many, many kids play sports when they are kids, not just the best athletes. Those that play aren’t all jocks (I’m a fairly serious athlete and never would have been coined “jock” in high school). Those most kids would readily identify as the “jock” crowd are probably a small percentage of all sports participants. If a study isolated only the best athletes I wonder if the numbers change.

  4. #4 EJ
    August 15, 2006

    (1) Jocks may be high academic achievers, but less inclined to present themselves publicly as high academic achievers.

    (2) Two sets of people: Athletic participants as defined by the study, and people perceived as jocks. How different are these sets? A big strong kid who seems to thoroughly enjoy gym class may be perceived as a jock (by some?); this doesn’t mean the kid could or would play on a formally organized team under a coach.

  5. #5 Dave Solimini
    August 15, 2006

    What about social pressures. are there pressures for jocks to ‘act’ dumb? Or more accurately, to act as if being smart is worth of ridicule?

    What about variation across sports. For isnstance, it was an article of faith among my HS coaches that the track and cross country teams had the highest grades of any sport.

    Also, how are we defining jock? I played three sports in school, participating for the entire academic year. Yet no one would ever have considered me a jock and I was certainly never called one.

    It seems that the problem may be in our definition. I remember someone saying “Dumb jock? Isn’t that a redundant term?” You can have athletes who aren’t jocks… therefore, there must be something that defines jock as a subgroup of athletes. is that something a difference in perceived intelligence?

    -dave

  6. #6 Skrud
    August 15, 2006

    Remembering back (not that long ago) to my high school days, I speculate that the association goes the other way.

    I don’t think many of the jocks were necessarily dumb, just that a lot of the dumb people happened to be jocks. They might have even been a minority of the jock population, but they stood out for their stellar stupidity.

  7. #7 renee
    August 15, 2006

    I am liking the distinction that people make between “athletes” and “jocks.” When I hear the term “jock,” I think of an athlete who is dumb. When I hear “athlete,” I make no intelligence assumption at all, or perhaps out of a vague sense of respect, I may be inclined to assume high intelligence.

    Is being dumb part of our definition of the word “jock”?

  8. #8 Alan
    August 16, 2006

    If you want to know the cause for the association between ‘jock’ and being dumb, you might like to search for negative correlations between athletic participation and becoming a film-maker. Someone needs to make American Animal Pie XXVIII where a sensitive intelligent football player is monstered by a gang of evil computer nerds.

  9. #9 Dave Group
    August 16, 2006

    I think the dumb jock stereotype may be a reaction against the fact that they may be (or may appear to be) more clique-ish than other stereotypes, plus the fact that sports figures are held in such high esteem, even by adults, jocks may feel privileged in a way that is disproportionate to their talents, especially academic. Also, because sports teams comprise such a big part of the school’s self-esteem, jocks may feel they can get away with anything (and often do) and not suffer consequences, just because they are “stars”, and that irresponsible off-field behavior may overshadow any academic performance, thus leading people to conclude jocks are macho, lunkheaded idiots.

  10. #10 Caledonian
    August 16, 2006

    I concur. The label ‘jock’ has more to do with social interactions and personal attitudes than athletic accomplishment. Some of the nicest people I knew in High School were athletes, and so were some of the worst. The worst – the ones who felt, correctly or not, that being an athlete gave them carte blanche to do as they pleased – were the ‘jocks’. The ones that might not have been particularly mean or cruel, but thought that athletic competition was far more important than other kinds of accomplishment, were ‘jocks’. Being dumb wasn’t a qualification for the term, but made having the qualifications much more likely.

    The term is inherently negative, and is applied only to the individuals who have negative characteristics. This study is pointless.

  11. #11 Mac
    August 17, 2006

    It seems like the measures used are performance-based, while the construct being assessed is a social label.

    It makes sense that those who invest more globally into school are more likely to be higher performers (as opposed to those who don’t invest much at all). So it would seem logical that regardless of basketball team or chess club, incrased involvement leads to increased performance. It’s difficult to compare athletes to non-athletes as their comparison does not make a distinction between involved/not-involved. Athletics, in many ways, is just another form of participation, and does not necessarily translate to the social label “jock”.

    Maybe a better study would be to assess individual’s social label in a particular school setting and then compare across groups. Lower N, less external validity, but should better assess the construct in question (whether “jocks” really are dumb).

    Just as another note, studies attempting to correlate athletic participation with grades also suffer from floor effects – many athletes are given a minimum they have to acheive, so they may not underacheive as much as they would without the external pressure (like a 2.0 minimum for H.S. sports participation).

  12. #12 Jamaal
    August 18, 2006

    Why would the “dumb” in “dumb jock” be bound more tightly to academic parformance than standardized test scores? The article says:

    “In all of these areas [grades, homework, attendance, standardized test scores, and enrollment in college] except standardized test scores, [...] athletic participation was significantly correlated to academic achievement.”

    Enrollment in college is often exclusively based on atheletic performance, so I wouldn’t think that would be relevant to a measure of ‘dumbness.’ Grades, homework, and attendence are often required to maintain student academic participation, and are often inflated by the hiring of special tutors, through special breaks (extra credit, retests, and sometimes outright fudging on the part of instructors), and also through the intentional choice of an easier curriculum. If they included in the study self-reported jocks who don’t have the academics to participate in the organized programs, that may add to the information that I would get out of the study.

    In addition, many sports are taken up as an enhancement of one’s record to have a better chance of entering college in addition to academics. In other words, rugby players, soccer players, lacrosse players, crew rowers and such may be more likely primarily students, not jocks. Race and class are not the only variables that need to be controlled for, though that’s often the instinct in matters of academic performance.

    Studies like this, if they were done differently, would have a chance of convincing me that the stereotype doesn’t describe a general tendency. Until then, I’m still going to rely on the naive reasoning that both knowledge and skill in sports require a major investment in time and energy, and on average a concentration in either one will encourage a deficit in the other.

  13. #13 stan
    August 20, 2006

    My ear also hears “dumb jock” as a bit redundant. The question “Are jocks really dumb?” seems to really be a “conceptuMy ear also hears “dumb jock” as a bit redundant. The question “Are jocks really dumb?” seems to really be a “conceptual” question, not a scientific one. However, I don’t think the study is pointless. The fact that there is a positive correlation between participation in sports and academic achievement might get us to revise our concept of “jock” (to come closer to something like “whoever participates in organized sports”). We would do that only because we want our concept to (somehow) be fairer or more just or clearer, and not because we were wrong about “jocks” being dumb. Nevertheless, the fact that we might do this marks a distinction between concepts like “jock” and concepts like “chink.” Thus, I would find a study really useless if it showed that, “in fact,” “chinks” are not all good at math because some scientists have found some Chinese people to be bad at math. For I would never subscribe to the assertion, “Some chinks are bad at math” – here the study would really have missed the point that the concept is essentially derogatory, and hence it would be really useless for tackling the question, “Are chinks really good at math?” (The correct way to respond to THAT question would not be to conduct a scientific inquiry.)al” question, not a scientific one. However, I don’t think the study is pointless. The fact that there is a positive correlation between participation in sports and academic achievement might get us to revise our concept of “jock” (to come closer to something like “whoever participates in organized sports”). We would do that only because we want our concept to (somehow) be fairer or more just or clearer, and not because we were wrong about “jocks” being dumb. Nevertheless, the fact that we might do this marks a distinction between concepts like “jock” and concepts like “chink.” Thus, I would find a study really useless if it showed that, “in fact,” “chinks” are not all good at math because some scientists have found some Chinese people to be bad at math. For I would never subscribe to the assertion, “Some chinks are bad at math” – here the study would really have missed the point that the concept is essentially derogatory, and hence it would be really useless for tackling the question, “Are chinks really good at math?” (The correct way to respond to THAT question would not be to conduct a scientific inquiry.)

  14. #14 stan
    August 20, 2006

    Sorry about that messed up post. Here’s the edited version:

    My ear also hears “dumb jock” as a bit redundant. The question “Are jocks really dumb?” seems to really be a “conceptual” question, not a scientific one. However, I don’t think the study is pointless. The fact that there is a positive correlation between participation in sports and academic achievement might get us to revise our concept of “jock” (to come closer to something like “whoever participates in organized sports”). We would do that only because we want our concept to (somehow) be fairer or more just or clearer, and not because we were wrong about “jocks” being dumb. Nevertheless, the fact that we might do this marks a distinction between concepts like “jock” and concepts like “chink.” Thus, I would find a study really useless if it showed that, “in fact,” “chinks” are not all good at math because some scientists have found some Chinese people to be bad at math. For I would never subscribe to the assertion, “Some chinks are bad at math” – here the study would really have missed the point that the concept is essentially derogatory, and hence it would be really useless for tackling the question, “Are chinks really good at math?” (The correct way to respond to THAT question would not be to conduct a scientific inquiry.)

  15. #15 advice sister alisoin
    September 19, 2006

    Did you ever hear the expression “when everyone tells you that you are sick, you tend to lie down?” I think it’s the same for stereotypes, such as “dumb jock.” I seriously doubt that the atheletically inclined are born less intelligent than the rest of us, but as atheletes, they tend to get away with less studying and are “expected” to take less challenging classes. A college football or basketball player simply doesn’t have the time, between practice and away games and publicity and so forth, to study as hard to those who have a lot less on their proverbial plates. And, if you call someone “dumb” and that’s all you expect from them, and you do it long enough, she or he will definitely slump to your expectations.

    This is true of all those negative comments people make either in jest, or because they are, just, well, dumb

  16. #16 RMM
    October 24, 2006

    I have never believed that all jocks are stupid, but alot of them are. There are also alot of jocks who are so full of themseleves that it makes me want to upchuck!

  17. #17 The Halfblood Princess
    July 21, 2008

    How about the sterotype that all blonds are dumb? Where did that come from? I believe these sterotypes have persisted for many reasons. For one, media doesn’t help. The dumb jock is still largly portrayed among movies, television shows, and cartoons. People have a tendency to think that what happens on a sitcom is a depiction of real life. Another reason could possibly be jealousy. Some people don’t won’t to think that a person could have it all; brains, beauty, and athletic ability. (I believe that’s the reason of the dumb blond stereotype.) There are dumb jocks out there. Some of the “muscleheads” would still be stupid if they were never jocks. Other “dumb jocks” appear stupid because they spend so much time practicing and too little time studying. They also might not be pressured enough to keep good grades and laziness and unconcern would be an outcome. There are also many jocks who do real well in their classes. There are some who do average like most other students. To see someones intelligence, I think it’s important to look at more than just their grades. How do they think? A person can think critically well and draw up well thought out conclusions and their grades could still suck. This is mainly going to be because they are not studying. (which is a stupidity unto itself) I’ve met some athlete’s that way. They figure since they’re going to get a athletic scholarship, then why worry about their grades. (not trying to make another stereoptype, some to worry about their grades) Anyone who believes in the dumb jock stereotype is dumb.

  18. #18 Lex Riggs
    September 24, 2008

    I recently completed a web-site for a group of athletes that are probably the exception to the rule. Click on this web-site and judge for yourself. I am not related to any of these athletes, and the last time I saw one of them was 1957, 51 years ago. All info on the web-site has been verified.
    Shelby A. (Lex) Riggs
    http://city-high-flash1955-56.tripod.com/

  19. #19 ange
    November 19, 2008

    There were nice people who played sports in high school. There were also the dumb no-necks who thought that they could control the school just because they could throw or catch a ball. It’s nice to see that after high school, most of them didn’t do much with their lives.