Nav: Home

Athletes suspend morality to pursue sporting success -- study

October 24, 2019

Ruthless sportspeople often suspend their sense of right and wrong when they step onto the field of play - viewing sport as a different world where they jettison responsibility to act in a moral way, according to a new study.

When athletes focus on the outcome of a game or race solely to earn a 'reward' or avoid 'punishment', they are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour in order to win or demonstrate their sporting pedigree.

In addition, ultra-competitive coaches can bring out the worst behaviour in athletes - making them feel inferior or guilty if they do not act in particular, mostly anti-social, ways.

Experts at the University of Birmingham and Sultan Qaboos University, Oman published their findings in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, after evaluating 27 existing reviews of research into 'prosocial' and 'antisocial' behaviour in sport.

Study author Dr Maria Kavussanu, Reader in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham commented: "Certain conditions in sport may lead athletes who are relatively upstanding individuals in everyday life to suspend their sense of right and wrong when they step into a competitive sporting arena.

"In the pursuit of victory, coaches may ask players to cheat or injure their opponents, and players may see their teammates doing this. It may be easier to morally disengage in sport because responsibility for one's inappropriate actions can be displaced onto others."

Temporarily suspending right and wrong in sport is described as 'bracketed morality' with athletes choosing to demonstrate less mature patterns of moral behaviour than in everyday life.

Similarly, instances of athletes demonstrating their superior ability or 'ego orientation' tend to be higher in competition, which is an integral part of sport, compared to training.

When athletes take part in sport solely to obtain rewards and prizes, show others how good they are, or avoid feelings of guilt and shame - they are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour to achieve these goals.

Researchers also found that coaches use coercive practices and pressure participants - for example, using controlling language, granting 'rewards' for performance and manipulating athletes' feelings and emotions.

Controlling coach behaviour led to moral disengagement (i.e., athletes justifying their antisocial behaviour), which in turn led to antisocial behaviour toward both opponents and teammates.

The researchers also discussed their studies on the consequences of teammate behaviour for the recipient. Prosocial behaviours supporting, congratulating, and encouraging one's teammates generally resulted in them trying harder and performing better.

Adult football and basketball players who felt that teammates acted prosocially toward them during a match reported experiencing more enjoyment, applied more effort, perceived better performance and were more committed to continue playing for their team.

Such behaviour towards teammates could also prevent burnout - psychological, emotional, and physical withdrawal from a previously enjoyable activity in response to chronic stress.

However, antisocial behaviour towards teammates can cause stress and burnout for individuals. When athletes experienced antisocial behaviour, such as verbal abuse from their teammates, they felt more anxiety and reported symptoms of burnout.

Repeatedly expressing frustration at a teammate's poor performance can leave that athlete unable to contribute to team goals and diminishes their ability to cope with the demands of their sport. Antisocial behaviour could also increase feelings of anger and negativity, as well as damaging team spirit.

However, in experimental research, basketball players subjected to antisocial behaviour from teammates performed better than players who were not in a two-minute free-throw shooting competition. This suggests that antisocial behaviour may be beneficial for performance under certain circumstances, but it is unlikely that these benefits would continue in the long term.
-end-
Notes to Editors

* The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world's top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

* 'Prosocial and antisocial behaviour in sport' - Dr. Maria Kavussanu, Maria and Dr. Ali Salam Ali Al-yaaribi is published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

University of Birmingham

Related Athletes Articles:

How kirigami can help us study the muscular activity of athletes
Scientists devise an elastic and durable skin-contact patch for measuring the electromyographic activity of the palm muscle inspired by ancient Japanese paper crafts.
Study examines attitudes toward transgender athletes
As several states draft legislation that would force student-athletes to play as their gender identified on their birth certificate instead of on a team that matches their gender identity, a team of political scientists investigated underlying factors that drive public opinion on transgender athletes.
The mind-muscle connection: For aesthetes, not athletes?
The 'mind-muscle connection.' Ancient lore for bodybuilders, latest buzz for Instragram fitness followers.
Sudden cardiac arrest in athletes: Prevention and management
It's marathon season, and every so often a news report will focus on an athlete who has collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest.
Vest helps athletes keep their cool
A new cooling vest for sports athletes may ensure everyone can compete safely in sweltering summer conditions such as the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics, reports a new paper published in Frontiers in Physiology.
Athletes with sickle cell traits are at more risk to collapse: here's why
A genetic variation known to affect sickle cell disease might be the reason why some college football players experience adverse clinical outcomes during periods of extreme physical exertion and others do not.
Experts provide new guidelines to athletes on protein intake
A review led by a sports scientist at the University of Stirling has set out new international guidelines for protein intake in track and field athletes.
3D printed tissues may keep athletes in action
Bioscientists at Rice and the University of Maryland with the Center for Engineering Complex Tissues learn to 3D-print scaffolds that may help heal osteochondral injuries of the sort suffered by many athletes.
Young athletes with shoulder instability might benefit from arthroscopy
Young athletes with shoulder instability are considered to be a high-risk group of patients following arthroscopic shoulder stabilization given the high recurrence rates and lower rates of return to sport, which have been reported in the literature.
Children are as fit as endurance athletes
Researchers discover how young children seem to run around all day without getting tired: their muscles resist fatigue and recover in the same way as elite endurance athletes.
More Athletes News and Athletes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.