The Frontal Cortex

Football and Violence

Economists parse the stats and find the correlation:

We find that college football games are associated with sharp increases in crime. For instance, assaults increase by about 9% when a community hosts a college football game, vandalism increases by about 18%, and DUIs increase by about 13%. We also find evidence that upsets result in larger increases in crime than games that do not produce an upset. For instance, an upset loss at home is associated with a 112% increase in assaults and a 61% increase in vandalism. We discuss these results in the context of psychological theories of fan aggression.

The most interesting aspect of the data, at least from the perspective of psychology, is the fact that upsets cause so much more violence. This implies that the fans aren’t simply imitating the spectacle of violence on the field. (See, for example, social learning theory.) Instead, their violence is triggered by a confluence of additional variables, one of which is their set of expectations. They are significantly more likely to act out once their expectations have been violated:

Although there is evidence that upset losses are associated with a larger increase in assaults than are upset wins, our results clearly indicate that expectations, and what happens to fans’ behavior when they are not met, should be explicitly built into future attempts to model the relationship between aggression and sporting events.

The best book I’ve read on the phenomenon of football/soccer and violence is Bill Buford’s classic text, Among the Thugs.

Via MR


  1. #1 Lisa
    January 17, 2008

    Heh. Maybe we should encourage fans to stay home and watch violent movies instead. (c.f. your post last year, or the nytimes this week.)

    I wonder whether it’s the same types of people in the two cases.

  2. #2 Anne-Marie
    January 17, 2008

    My university turns into a circus on gameday weekends, and from my observations most stupid behavior at sporting events results from alcohol consumption, not necessarily the game itself. I’ve seen plenty of drunken fights/vandalism/idiocy breakout hours before kickoff.

  3. #3 amybuilds
    January 17, 2008

    This brings to mind an ongoing feature in Sports Illustrated entitled “Sign of the Apocalypse”

  4. #4 MattXIV
    January 17, 2008

    This isn’t one of those things you need a study to explain. People start tailgating before the game, which means they start drinking earlier than normal. Home game upsets generate anger obviously. So, by 4 PM on game day, you can have a bunch of angry drunk people, which unsuprisingly results in an uptick of petty crime.

  5. #5 Pawlie Kokonuts
    January 19, 2008

    I suppose the same correlations can be made with St. Patrick’s Day parades, the first warm day of spring (in Syracuse, NY, at least), and Superbowl Sunday. Maybe. A bizarre corollary of the upset theory is the New York Yankees Fan Syndrome: always angry and drunk, win or lose, it seems (purely anecdotal evidence, of course).

  6. #6 PeaceNut
    January 28, 2008

    My theory: We live in a military town and the correlation with violent sports, wrestling, football, rugby, etc..I believe is no accident. Nor the Xbox live shoot-outs afterwards that have been extremely marketed in our war- complacent media Let the violence begin and never end until lights out!

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