Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Perceptions of the Appropriateness of Sport Fan Physical and Verbal Aggression: Potential Influences of Team Identification and Fan Dysfunction

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Perceptions of the Appropriateness of Sport Fan Physical and Verbal Aggression: Potential Influences of Team Identification and Fan Dysfunction

Article excerpt

Although sport scientists have examined many different aspects of sport fandom (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001), one of the predominant topics of interest continues to be fan aggression (in this paper, we will adopt Baron & Richardson's, 1994, definition of aggression: "any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment," p. 7). Sport fans exhibit two different forms of aggression: hostile aggression and instrumental aggression (Wann, Schrader, & Carlson, 2000). Although the intention to harm is found in both hostile and instrumental aggression, the goal of these behaviors differs (Silva, 1980). With hostile aggression, the goal is the pain and suffering (i.e., harm) inflicted on the victim (for instance, a fan who shouts derogatory comments toward an official just to hurt this person). Conversely, with instrumental aggression, the goal is some other outcome, such as when fans act aggressively toward players to distract them and improve their team's chances of success.

Researchers have identified many different antecedents to fan aggression, including need for self-esteem (Wann, 1993), observational learning (Arms, Russell, & Sandilands, 1979), and alcohol (Wann et al., 2001). However, many of the recent investigations of fan aggression have centered on the important contribution of team identification. Team identification involves the extent to which a fan feels a psychological connection to a team, that is, the degree to which the team is felt as an extension of the fan (Wann & Branscombe, 1993; Wann et al., 2001). Numerous studies have documented the relationship between team identification and fan aggression, revealing that highly identified fans are most likely to engage in this behavior (Branscombe & Wann, 1994; Wann, 2006). For example, Wann, Carlson, and Schrader (1999) found that highly identified fans were more likely than less identified persons to exhibit both hostile and instrumental verbal aggression at sporting events. Research also indicates that level of identification is a key variable in predicting the anonymous acts of fan aggression (Wann et al., 2005; Wann, Haynes, McLean, & Pullen, 2003; Wann, Peterson, Cothran, & Dykes, 1999) and plays an important role in sport riots (Lanter, 2000).

Another research project examining the impact of team identification on fan aggression was conducted by Rocca and Vogl-Bauer (1999). In this research, participants completed a questionnaire packet assessing team identification and the appropriateness of physical and verbal aggression at sporting events. Regression analyses indicated that team identification was a significant predictor of perceptions of the appropriateness of verbal aggression (i.e., persons with higher levels of team identification reported a belief that verbal aggression was more appropriate), but there was no relationship between identification and perceptions of the appropriateness of physical aggression.

Even though studies of the incorporation of team identification into the model of fan aggression have furthered our understanding of this phenomenon, recent work by Wakefield and Wann (2006) suggests that sport scientists may need to rethink the team identification--fan aggression relationship. These authors developed a measure designed to assess fan dysfunction (the Dysfunctional Fandom Scale). Fan dysfunction concerns the extent to which fans complain about various components of the fan experience (e.g., stadium amenities) and the degree to which they are confrontational (e.g., enjoy arguing with rival fans). In their initial work, Wakefield and Wann examined two groups of equally high identified college football fans: those low in fan dysfunction and those high in fan dysfunction. The authors found several interesting differences between the two groups. For instance, relative to high identified fans with low levels of dysfunction, those with high levels of dysfunction were more likely to perceive alcohol consumption as an integral part of game attendance, call in to sport talk radio stations (presumably to voice their grievances), and verbally abuse officials. …

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