The Role Aggression Plays in Successful and Unsuccessful Ice Hockey Behaviors

Article excerpt

Key words: sports, violence, frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory

Aggressive behavior in professional ice hockey has seen a dramatic increase since 1975, and many players and coaches consider such behavior an important strategy for winning (Englehardt, 1995; Smith, 1979; Widmeyer & Birch, 1979). A belief that aggression is necessary for successful performance can be found outside the ranks of professional hockey, as well. For example, Weinstein, Smith, and Wiesenthal (1995) pointed out that young Canadian ice hockey players are taught that engaging in illegal aggressive behavior is often vital for team success.

Theoretical Perspectives on Aggression

Aggression likely occurs in sports such as hockey at least in part because athletes are socialized to be aggressive (Tenenbaum, Stewart, Singer & Duda, 1996; Weinstein et al., 1995). In accordance with social learning theory (Bandura, 1973, 1986), athletes model aggressive behaviors in others, are reinforced for their aggressive actions, receive few punishments for their acts, and have expectations concerning likely punishment and reinforcement (Nash & Lerner, 1981; Smith, 1988; Tenenbaum et al., 1996). One of the most important forms of reinforcement aggressive acts can receive in athletic contests is for the aggressive acts to lead to successful performance outcomes for the athlete or the team. Thus, aggression is positively reinforced by athletes' achievement of success. Although some research (Engelhardt, 1995; McGuire, Courneya, Widmeyer & Carron, 1992) has failed to find a positive relationship between successful performance and aggression, several studies (McCarthy & Kelly, 1978a, 1978b; Widmeyer & Bi rch, 1984; Worrell & Harris, 1986) have shown at least partial support for a positive relationship between the two.

Aggression in sport situations might also emanate from frustration (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939). The frustration-aggression hypothesis (Dollard et al., 1939) states that when one is thwarted in an attempt to achieve a goal, frustration will occur, which will then result in aggressive behavior. In sports, frustration often is a result of an unsuccessful event or outcome; therefore, the frustration-aggression hypothesis predicts that poor performance (i.e., the lack of success) precedes aggression. Widmeyer and Birch (1984) hypothesized that early in a hockey game or season aggression might facilitate performance, whereas later in a game or season aggression might be a result of frustration. Some research (Engelhardt, 1995; Lefebvre & Passer, 1974; Leith, 1989; Martin, 1976; McCaw & Walker, 1999; Scholtz & Willemse, 1991) supports the idea of a negative relationship between successful performance and aggression.

Social learning theory (Bandura, 1973) and the frustration-aggression hypothesis (Dollard et al., 1939) each propose a different temporal order between aggression and performance. Social learning theory predicts that aggression occurs first and is followed by a successful performance (a reinforcer that increases the likelihood of future aggression). The frustration-aggression hypothesis predicts that poor performance occurs first and is followed by an aggressive response (due to frustration). Because previously cited correlational studies have been unable to assess possible causal pathways, it is not clear how well their findings support a specific theoretical orientation. Therefore, the main purpose of the present study was to ascertain which theoretical perspective had support by taking into account the temporal order of aggressive and performance behaviors.

Definitions of Aggression

Aggression is most often defined as intentionally inflicting an aversive stimulus on another person. One can further differentiate aggression as either hostile (i.e., the purpose is to do harm to another for its own sake) or instrumental (i. …