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Psychology of Agression

In what ways can a Sport Psychologist understand aggression in sport?

Aggression is present in many sports across the world, which as a result of this has been of interest to psychologists for a long time. Aggression can be seen in all aspects of sport from professionals to armatures. One reason why aggression is apart of most sports is because it is a natural instinct when the body is aroused and in close competitive contact sports, for the competitor to show signs of aggression. Sporting activities such as football, rugby and ice hockey in particular allows people to release aggressive energy in a way that is socially acceptable. This situation allows psychologists the perfect chance to analyse the ways that aggression affect people in a safe way.

To under stand aggression in sport a psychologist must know why it is present in sport. It is believed by Sigmund Freud that we have a constant build up of aggression in our bodies and ever so often it needs to be released in a positive way. “Such as by exploring, exercising and competitive activities”. The instinct theory of aggression, according to Freud is a drive similar to sex or hunger. Aggression is part of our existence and like the other drives, may be regulated through fulfilment. Lorenz thinks that humans possess aggressive instincts. Biological instinct theory portrays humans as aggressive that are driven by a biological instinct to fight or flight. So rather than overlook man’s natural instincts when addressing remedies to acts of violence in society, Lorenz proposes that we consider controlled environments that allow the discharge of aggression in a positive societal context. Competitive games and sports, according to Lorenz, are one example of a safe and socially acceptable outlet for pent-up aggression.

The act of aggression, according to the biological instinct theory, leads to the fulfilment of the need to be aggressive. It is also thought that aggression can be released from just watching highly competitive sport. However there is not a great deal of evidence to support this. A TAT test was carried out by Turner and separately by Kinsmore and they both came to similar conclusions that there was an increase in aggression in spectators after watching American football but there was a decrease after watching wrestling. The frustration- aggression hypothesis is a drive based model of aggression by Dollard, Dobb, Miller Mowrer and Sears this argues that aggression is a universal reaction to frustration. It proposes that incidents of frustration lead to some expression of aggression and acts of aggression results from some form of frustration. This model differs from the instinct theory in that aggression may be a result of external factors and not biological instincts. A more recent look at this hypothesis suggests that the degree of aggression that is expressed depends more upon the amount of frustration one is put under or if a number of frustrating incidents happen and the threshold for frustration of the participant Aggression can be interpreted in many ways there for it has been divided into four different meaning in relation to sport. Hostile aggression this is where a player or participant has the intent to harm a member of the opposition not to necessarily gain a upper hand but to simply injure and cause pain to the other competitor. The second type is instrumental aggression where there is still intent to harm but this time with the aim to gain an upper hand in the competitive situation. These two meaning are obliviously out side the rules of all sports therefore are considered unsocial. Reactive aggression is when a player may react to the behaviour, be it verbal or physical of other competitors. Assertiveness is the most accepted and desirable form of aggression to have or teach. It is where goal centred behaviour is pursued and there is no intent to harm and the sports person stays within the rules of the given sport. It is argued by Zillman , Keitcher and Milansky, that usually aggression breeds aggression even more so in sport. For example this can be seen when two players have a disagreement and end up showing reactive aggression towards each other it will be a matter of seconds before fellow players will also get aroused and get involved and be aggressive in one way or another. This is also backed up vicarious learning. A good example of this is Bandura and his test with bobo dolls and children. Once spectators have observed unsociable aggressive behaviour they then often adopt the behaviour themselves.

Another point that must be taken in to consideration is what effect aggression has on a players and the team. Volkamer carried out a study on football and found that the lower ranked teams committed more foul.

After looking at the different types and causes of aggression the psychologist must remember there are also a few sports such as field individual sports have very little or no aggression in at all for example volley ball, rag racing and clay pigeon shooting as it would be very risky to have aggression in a sport such as clay pigeon shooting.

In conclusion a psychologist can recognise all the different types of aggression in many sports and the level of aggression varies greatly from intent to harm to goal centred assertiveness. Even though psychology is not necessarily always associated with sport it plays a deceivingly large part especially when it comes to aggression.

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