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8) Group displays of aggression – sport

Group displays of aggression are used frequently in sport. One explanation of this is that by acting in an aggressive manner you will perform better and your opponent will be intimidated. This will mean you will win; gaining a higher status which means you will attract a mate and be able to reproduce.

Xenophobia – However another explanation of group displays of aggression in sport is xenophobia. Xenophobia is the fear of outsiders, and in sport this means any of the opposition. MacDonald (1992) suggested from an evolutionary perspective it is adaptive to exaggerate negative stereotypes about outsiders because to overestimate the threat is less costly than underestimating it. Avoiding attack would mean we had a better chance of reproducing, so we must do it at any cost. This could explain why many sports fans act as a close knit collective, with a hatred of opposition fans.

Podaliri and Balestri found xenophobia to be rife in northern Italian football clubs, with anti-Semitic banners on the terraces and racist chants.



Shwarz and Barkey (1997) – Believed sporting teams win more game at home due to support from the home crowd. This supports the evolutionary explanation as it suggests the social support from the crowd increases aggression

Applicability to the real world – This research has helped sporting clubs to take steps to reduce xenophobia and therefore aggression. For example the German clubs played with a slogan on their shirts which translates as “My Friend is a Foreigner”, initiatives such as this have been set up because of the understanding the xenophobia could be the cause of aggression at sports events.


Entertainment not aggression – It could be argued that sporting group displays such as the Haka are merely for entertainment, not evolutionary aggression.

Differing crowd behaviour – Guttman believed that no single explanation can cover the behaviour of sporting crowds as they widely differ.

A social construction? – End (2005) found that the environment of sports events encourages aggressive group displays; this suggests they are a social construction rather than an evolutionary adaptation. So End said social theories of aggression are a better explanation of sporting group aggressive actions.



About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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