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Anger seen in sports is more strategy than passion

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New research published in Social Cognitive and Emotional Neuroscience It suggests that aggressive “losers” are actually more creatures of strategy than emotion. This sports-based study gives us wisdom on how to keep cool in a competitive environment.

“I myself played football for amateur teams and noticed that some players committed unnecessary fouls when defeat seemed certain,” says a psychologist at the University of Barcelona. , explains Macia Bouades Rotger, co-author of the new study. “More interestingly, some of the people who did this weren’t overly enthusiastic off the pitch.”

The Buades-Rotger study measured aggression induced by winning a competition with consistent results. A lower competitive position (that is, a lower rank because they lose more often) is associated with higher aggression.

“Frankly, losers are on average more aggressive than winners,” he explains. “And it makes sense. If your rivals are better than you, you should rely on aggression to try and stop them.”

According to Buades-Rotger, these results are not only theoretically relevant, but may also provide clues as to how to best prevent and treat aggression in sports. These results also break the stereotype of a dirty play winner.

“I often hear sports coaches and commentators say that teams that win are aggressive and tough,” he explains. “Our results directly contradict this narrative.”

He provides an example of the 2021-22 Golden State Warriors, who not only won the NBA Championship, but also won the NBA Championship while being one of the teams with the fewest penalties in the league.

Buades-Rotger emphasizes that the most common reasons for aggression in sport are actually strategic in nature. This means that the anger and foul play shown by the losing side is meant to compensate for their lack of skill.

“Specifically, our data suggest that people use aggression not out of harassment, but as a competitive resource. “Instead, attacking seems to be a more deliberate strategy to compensate for skill gaps.”

In contrast, great performers who are more competitive keep their cool and win with sheer skill.

Buades-Rotger also suggests that these findings can be cautiously extrapolated to general competitive environments, such as harsh workplaces, and to people who may be dealing with anger management problems. increase.

“This study may be of interest to developmental and sports psychologists who work with aggressive individuals,” he explains. “For both these people and the average person, our results may allow one simple piece of advice.

A full interview with psychologist Masia Bouades Rotger about her research can be found here. This is one reason why many people tend to be underdogs.