Midwestern Psychological Association: Honor Student Research

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My three honors students, Kayla Hucke, Olyvia Kuchta, and Sarah Londo, presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference in Chicago last week (April 30th and May 1).  They did brilliantly.

Here’s a sample of their work:

HuckeKayla Hucke: Emotions in Sports Performance

KuchtaOlyvia Kuchta: The Influence of Free Will, Politics, and Religion on Attitudes about Mental Illness

LondoSarah Londo: Locus of Control and the Stress Response

A Look Inside: Anger From an Athlete’s Viewpoint

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People think of anger as an emotion athletes often feel and even “use” during competition as a way to get pumped up, increase aggressive play, and even outperform others with the “angry edge”. Well, why not ask athletes themselves how they view anger the day of, immediately before, and during competition? Is experiencing anger seen as beneficial? Are sports an “outlet” for releasing anger in an acceptable way? Desired AngerStudents who competed in a varsity level sport in high school and some current college athletes participating in an online survey say that YES anger may be beneficial. Athletes actually desire to experience increased levels of anger as competition nears and hope to feel at their angriest during competition. On the other hand, athletes view anxiety as harmful to performance and strive to experience less of it as competition nears. Could it be that athletes actually strive to enter into a competitive scenario feeling angry?

AngerInterfered

Part of a bigger study looking at emotional intelligence in sports, the findings regarding anger were striking. As mentioned above, athletes want to feel angry, but the opposite seems to be true of anxiety. Athletes were asked to share personal examples in which anger helped and interfered with performance.  Athletes reported anger as a distraction as the biggest reason for it interfering with one’s performance. For example, say an athlete was angered by foul play from the opposing team, a poor call made by the ref, or a careless mistake he/she made a few moments earlier…this was oftentimes seen as interfering with performance. On the other hand, athletes associated increase in adrenaline as a positive component of anger. Athletes Anger Helpedthat felt angry indicated that their adrenaline was pumping, they felt more motivated and excited leading to increased levels of performance. Interestingly, athletes were also asked to participate in a questionnaire looking specifically at emotional intelligence.  Participants who scored higher on emotional intelligence considered themselves to be more successful in their sport when comparing their abilities to others they compete against. This suggests that athletes view emotions, or more importantly their understanding and ability to manage such emotions, as playing a role in sports performance.

What does this research suggest for athletes and their emotional experiences during sports competition? Athletes view anger as a beneficial emotion surrounding sports. This may suggest that athletes should incorporate feelings of anger into their sport routine and competition prep. Findings also suggest that athletes need to learn how to recognize, manage, and understand their emotions in order to reap the benefits of experiencing them surrounding a competition. Future research could look at sport type and see whether athletes involved in sports that are considered more aggressive in nature (e.g., football) view emotions such as anger as more beneficial to performance outcomes. Being able to recognize such emotions could lead athletes to better be able to use such emotional experiences, in turn, leading to increases in ability and performance in a sports context.

HuckeBy Kayla Hucke
Kayla is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She will graduate with honors in May 2015 and plans to take some time off of school to gain experience before attending graduate school. She will present her honors project, Emotions in Sports Performance, at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference in Chicago in April 2015.

U Mad, BRA? Why we let sports-related anger get the best of us

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It’s a bit of an understatement to say that there are some people across the globe who take their soccer seriously.  This World Cup has given us more than enough examples of fan taking things to a new level.

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Um….

All joking aside, things have gotten serious in the last few days with threats, violence, and riots.

Let’s start with Juan Zuniga, the Colombian player who injured Brazilian star-player, Neymar.  Even before the 7-1 loss to Germany, Zuniga was getting death threats from Brazilian fans.  In fact, the Colombian Soccer Federation has had to provide him with additional security.

Meanwhile, Brazil broke out into chaos after the loss with fights among fans and riots in multiple locations.  In fact, 12 buses in Sao Paulo were set on fire by angry Brazilian fans after the loss.
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Likewise, Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, is taking considerable flack for the loss and some believe this will lead to her losing her next election.

Make no mistake about it; this isn’t just one soccer-obsessed country overreacting to the result of a game.  We see this sort of anger elsewhere as well.  The South Korean team was pelted with toffee by angry fans when they returned home and English fans set fire to an Italian flag in response to a loss.

So why does all this happen?  Why to people find them themselves getting too riled up over sports?  After all, it’s only a game, right?

Well, as it turns out, there are several basic psychological phenomena that make anger a likely reaction to disappointing outcomes in sports.

Basking in Reflected Glory: One concept, originally described by Robert Cialdini and relevant to sports viewership, is the tendency of people to bask in the reflected glory (BIRG) of successful others.  You often hear this in the language they use to discuss their favorite team.  Fans respond to victory by saying “we” won, “we” played great, and who do “we” play next.  Even though they themselves have done nothing concrete to have earned the victory, they still see themselves as part of the team and, therefore, partially responsible for the victory.  The tendency to BIRG is even more likely in a county like Brazil that receives so much of its esteem from soccer.

Tension: Once you acknowledge that fans care about the outcome because they identify with the team (i.e., they BIRG), it’s easy to understand the tension that accompanies viewing a sporting event.  This becomes even more true as the stakes get higher.  The more important the game, the greater the tension and, as was discussed under Anger Basics, people experience greater anger in response to negative events if they are already feeling tense or on edge.

Elevated Status and Meaning: It is not uncommon to hear fans describe sporting events as hugely important or even monumental occasions, elevating the status and meaning of the events well beyond their actual implications.  Attaching so much importance to an event will certainly lead to frustration and anger when there is an undesired outcome.  In other words, if someone thinks that watching their team win will be the best thing that ever happened to them, watching them lose will probably feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to them.  It certainly doesn’t help that the Brazilian press has been using words like “catastrophic” and “a historic humiliation” to describe the loss.

Perceptions of Unfairness: It’s easy to find controversy or some reason why the outcome was not fair or deserved. Ambiguous calls by officials, poor play by a player, or poor coaching all fall into the category of reasons why a team “should” have won and otherwise “would” have won.  It all feeds into the feeling that the desired outcome was taken from the fan and gives the fan a specific target to be angry with (e.g., coach, referees). In this case, it’s easy for fans to look at Neymar’s injury as the primary (and unfair) reason for the loss.  Hence, it’s easy to target Zuniga as the offending party.

Secondary Gain: Finally, for some, the outcome of the game has actual consequences.  Typically, these consequences are manufactured by the person ahead of time through gambling, fantasy sports, or even just through banter with a friend who supports the opposition (i.e., “smack talk”).  For such people, the outcome has very real financial or social implications and it is easy to have an emotional reaction to the idea of lost money or damaged pride.

The good news is that no one is doomed to feel angry every time his or her team loses.  There are some fairly simple steps that can be taken to help decrease unwanted feelings of anger.

  1. Keep it in Perspective: It is important, not just during the game but in the time leading up to it, to remember the real implications of things not going the way you want them to.  It may be easier said than done but try to keep in mind what it will really mean if your team loses or wins (i.e., is this really “catastrophic”).
  2. Awareness and Relaxation: Being aware of feelings of tension and anger in the moment and introducing relaxation approaches can be a valuable way to decrease unwanted anger.  Useful relaxation approaches can include deep breathing, counting, progressive muscle relaxing and others.
  3. Limit the Banter: Friendly banter can become unfriendly in a hurry so it’s a good idea to remember not to dish out any more than you can take.  Adding damaged pride to a loss only makes it worse and there’s a good chance that the targets of your excessive smack talk will come back at you when you are down.
  4. Avoidance: Ultimately, it might make sense for people to consider whether or not they want to invite something into their life that makes them so angry.  Watching sports is a choice, even for people who are really passionate about them, and you can choose not to watch if it isn’t healthy for you or the people around you.

By Ryan C. Martin

Note: This is update to a 2011 post, The Inciting World of Sports

Fact-Check: Does Domestic Violence Against Women Increase on Football Sundays?

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Yes, it does. But there is a bit more to it.

All the Rage has actually covered something similar before with our piece on the Inciting World of Sports. The domestic violence claim has taken a lot of different forms (“Domestic violence triples on Super Bowl Sunday,” “More women are victims of violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year”).

So how much of this is actually true? Three separate studies debunked the fact that violence against women is at an all-time high on football Sundays.  In fact, according to recent research in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, summer holidays like the 4th of July have a domestic violence rate three times higher than days with televised professional football games.

However, research seems to suggest that while domestic violence rates may not be at their highest on game day, there does seem to be an increase. In the same study, researchers suggested that intimate partner violence does increase on certain football Sundays as opposed to those Sundays with no football game. This phenomenon was also noted in a 2006 study published in the book Handbook of Sports and Media with their findings that on days after an NFL football game, domestic violence rates increased. In a 2011 study, researchers David Card and Gordon Dahl take their findings a bit further. They found that domestic violence rates do indeed increase after a football game, but only on days when the favored team (i.e., the team expected to win) suffers an unexpected loss. Looking at 6 cities with NFL football teams (Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Tennessee Titans), they found that there was about a 10% increase in male domestic violence against woman on game days with an upset.

By Lisa Gehrke
Lisa is a senior Psychology and Human Development major at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She will be graduating in May and hope to attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology.

What About that Loud Angry Parent on the Sidelines?

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Anyone who has been to a children’s sporting event has noticed that it seems as though there is always at least one parent yelling at the kids, at the coaches, or at the referees.  Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever wondered what they are yelling about?

In a 2012 study in The Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, Omli and LaVoi examined the behaviors of angry parents at sporting events.  They surveyed over 700 parents via an online questionnaire asking them to recall a time when they were upset or showed anger at one of their children’s sporting events.  This study was able to detect what exactly was making parents to become angry.  Once all data was collected the research team coded all responses into categories.

The research team found that many parents’ responses could be put into three categories.  These three categories include unjust conduct, which means that parents showed anger because they found something to be unfair or impartial.  For example, “the referee was not being fair or the coach was not being fair because they didn’t play my son more.”  The second category had to do with a lack of care toward their child.  For example, when a coach exhibited behaviors that were cruel or unkind toward a particular child.  Finally, the third category had to do with incompetence like when the offender (e.g., referee, coach) was deemed incapable of doing his or her job.

While, this study was not able to examine the exact behavior of the parent who expressed anger, it was able to examine three situations that may provoke parents’ anger.  Therefore, moving forward perhaps future research could look at ways to reduce parents’ anger responses and to explore what kids learn when their parents become so upset.

By Rebecca Arrowood
Rebecca is a senior Psychology major and Human Development minor at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She will be attending graduate school to earn a Masters in Counseling Psychology next fall.

The Inciting World of Sports

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Question: Is it true that there are more cases of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year?

Several online sources refer to this as the Super Bowl Myth and have outlined data to the contrary (see the following: Snopes, Family Violence Prevention Fund, and Parade). The basic premise here is that the aggression laden sport of football promotes violence amongst male viewers who take the game too seriously. 

As it turns out, though, calling it an all out myth might be going a bit too far.  While it is not true that there are more instances of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year, at least one study has found a relationship between domestic violence and football viewership on Super Bowl Sunday.

Not surprisingly, there is very little research on the relationship between football viewership and violence.  A 2003 paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association appears to be the most thorough evaluation of the topic.  In this paper, the authors found that, across 12 cities with NFL teams, there was a slight increase in reported cases of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday.  However, they also found that this increase was consistent with the increases seen on Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day and, therefore, it probably had less to do with football than it has to do with a host of other factors associated with special occasions (e.g., parties, alcohol, high expectations, increased interaction with spouse). 

All that having been said, it’s clear that many people find themselves getting too riled up over football (and other sports) and it often leaves others wondering why.  After all, it’s only a game, right?  Well, as it turns out, there are several basic psychological phenomena that make anger a likely reaction for some when they watch sports.  

Basking in Reflected Glory: One concept, originally described by Robert Cialdini and relevant to sports viewership, is the tendency of people to bask in the reflected glory (BIRG) of successful others.  You often hear this in the language they use to discuss their favorite team.  Fans respond to victory by saying “we” won, “we” played great, and who do “we” play next.  Even though they themselves have done nothing concrete to have earned the victory, they still see themselves as part of the team and, therefore, partially responsible for the victory.  Sports enthusiasts are not the only people who BIRG.  We see it amongst political supporters, in the workplace, amongst teenagers trying to identify with popular kids, and other groups.

Tension: Once you acknowledge that fans care about the outcome because they identify with the team (i.e., they BIRG), it’s easy to understand the tension that accompanies viewing a sporting event.  This becomes even more true as the stakes get higher.  The more important the game, the greater the tension and, as was discussed under Anger Basics, people experience greater anger in response to negative events if they are already feeling tense or on edge. 

Elevated Status and Meaning: It is not uncommon to hear fans describe sporting events as hugely important or even monumental occasions, elevating the status and meaning of the events well beyond their actual implications.  Attaching so much importance to an event will certainly lead to frustration and anger when there is an undesired outcome.  In other words, if someone thinks that watching their team win will be the best thing that ever happened to them, watching them lose will probably feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to them.   

Perceptions of Unfairness: Anytime a sporting event is decided by just a few points, it’s easy to find controversy or some reason why the outcome was not fair or deserved. Ambiguous calls by officials, poor play by a player, or poor coaching all fall into the category of reasons why a team “should” have won and otherwise “would” have won.  It all feeds into the feeling that the desired outcome was taken from the fan and gives the fan a specific target to be angry with (e.g., coach, referees). 

Secondary Gain: Finally, for some, the outcome of the game has actual consequences.  Typically, these consequences are manufactured by the person ahead of time through gambling, fantasy football, or even just through banter with a friend who supports the opposition (i.e., “smack talk”).  For such people, the outcome has very real financial or social implications and it is easy to have an emotional reaction to the idea of lost money or damaged pride.

The good news is that no one is doomed to feel angry every time his or her team loses.  There are some fairly simple steps that can be taken to help decrease unwanted feelings of anger. 

  1. Keep it in Perspective: It is important, not just during the game but in the time leading up to it, to remember the real implications of things not going the way you want them to.  It may be easier said than done but try to keep in mind what it will really mean if your team loses or wins. 
  2. Awareness and Relaxation: Being aware of feelings of tension and anger in the moment and introducing relaxation approaches can be a valuable way to decrease unwanted anger.  Useful relaxation approaches can include deep breathing, counting, progressive muscle relaxing and others.  
  3. Limit the Banter: Friendly banter can become unfriendly in a hurry so it’s a good idea to remember not to dish out any more than you can take.  Adding damaged pride to a loss only makes it worse and there’s a good chance that the targets of your excessive smack talk will come back at you when you are down. 
  4. Avoidance: Ultimately, it might make sense for people to consider whether or not they want to invite something into their life that makes them so angry.  Watching sports is a choice, even for people who are really passionate about them, and you can choose not to watch if it isn’t healthy for you or the people around you. 

By Ryan C. Martin
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