Social Psychology of Sport

All 3 sections and evaluation for Social Psychology of sport

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Social Psychology of Sport

Social psychology deals with human interactions and particularly with group dynamics. The first two chapters on sport have been looking primarily at sport from an individual differences approach and how personality traits/states such as anxiety and confidence affect sporting performance.  This chapter focuses on a social context of sport. This involves the study of teams, the relationship between players and audiences and the relationship between players and coaches.

1. Group Cohesion

2. Audience effect

3. Leadership and Coaching

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1. 1 Theories of Group Cohesion

Key study: Tuckman - Developmental sequence in small groups

A think tank of social psychologists, of which Tuckman was a part, was looking at small groups and organizational behaviour at the navel Medical Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland USA.

Altman had been collecting articles on group development and gave them to Tuckman to see if any patterns emerged.

Tuckman (1965) reported identifying four stages: orientation/testing/dependence, conflict, group cohesion, functional role-relatedness.

For these he evolved the terms: ‘forming’, ‘storming’, ‘norming’ and ‘performing’, and proposed his stage theory of group development. Later a 5th stage adjourning was added.

  • Forming occurs when team members come together and get to know each other. By testing each other, members seek acceptance from each other and start to depend on the group hierarchy.
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1. Theories of Group Cohesion

  • Storming, where conflict develops as roles and status are jockeyed for eg; captain or penalty taker. The group influence is small as members are seeking to affirm who they are within the group
  • Norming occurs as co operation replaces conflict; the group has common goals and cohesion. All players recognise their role and that of other players and feelings of cohesion develop and new roles are adopted.
  • Performing occurs when the primary goal is group success. The team is united in its’ desire for success and conflicts are resolved in the need for task performance.
  • Adjourning is the break up of the group, when their task is completed successfully, everyone can move onto new things, feeling good about what's been achieved.
  • This model suggests that teams all go through a process of development before becoming cohesive. If the do not complete this process successfully then performance is likely to be impaired as team members will not all be focused on the task.


There is no evaluation of Tuckman as it is a model rather than an empirical study.

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1.2 Social Loafing

Social loafing describes the phenomenon that occurs when individuals exert less effort when working as a group than when working independently.


Key Study ~ Latane, B., Williams, K., & Harkins, S. (1979). Many Hands Make Light The Work: The Causes and Consequences of Social Loafing.

Experiment 1

Method - On 8 occasions 6 undergraduate male studying introductory psychology from Ohio State university were invited to help the experimenter's judge how much noise people make in social settings. The participants were asked to judge cheering and applause, and also to judge how loud these seem to those who hear them. The participants were asked to: 

  • (1) Clap or cheer as loudly as possible for 5 seconds.
  • (2) Judge noises. Both performers and observers were asked to guess how much noise had been produced.

There were 36 trials of yelling and 36 trials of clapping alone, in pairs and in groups of 4 and 6.


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1.2 Social Loafing


  • The noise produced did not grow in proportion to the number of people. The average sound pressure generated per person decreased with increasing group size.
  • Two-person groups performed at only 71%
  • Four person groups at 51%
  • Six person groups at 40%

Conclusion: It appears that when it comes and clappig and shouting many hands do in fact make light work.

Experiment 2

Method - In six groups of six, participants were told the study was investigating sensory feedback on production of sound in social groups; wore blindfolds and headsets to prevent seeing and hearing and were told the room was soundproofed and other participants couldn’t see or hear them; were told to shout as loud as they could. They were all male undergraduate volunteers- the aim was to remove the ‘non-reduced effort’ factors.

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1.2 Social Loafing

Results: Both studies produced similar results. Helped to contribute to factors to reduce social loafing:

  • Collaboration gets everyone involved by giving each individual a special, meaningful task that is important to the group’s success.
  • Content involved singling out each individuals contribution to the group, so they feel valued.
  • Choice enables team members to choose their roles, rather than have these 'handed down' to them.


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Evaluation of Latane


+ The controlled conditions in Latané’s experiment help identify the cause of the Ringelmann Effect: decreased motivation in large groups.

+ This scientific approach shows cause-and-effect and measures performance in an objective way.

-The participants did have to be deceived about the purpose of the study and whether they were acting alone or not, but this helps reduce demand characteristics that would otherwise be very high in a group of psychology undergraduates.

+ The ecological validity of the task was very low and the task must have felt silly and embarrassing; at least Ringelmann tested a real sporting activity.

-However, there may be social determinism and situational factors. Lacks EV as well as having small samples, which fails to allow for generalisations.

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1.3 Aspects of Cohesion

Key study: Carron - Cohesiveness in sports groups

Carron broke his perceptions of cohesion in sport into four areas:

  • The theoretical framework
  • Application of sport
  •  Implications and limitations
  • Future directions

General theoretical perspective - based on previous work by Festinger 1953, Carron suggests that cohesion is determined by two dimensions, the source of the rewards and the means of achieving the rewards. This suggests that cohesion can be classed as either social cohesion or task cohesion.

Sports research perspective – this suggests that cohesion when applied to sport is one dimensional and measures of sports cohesiveness tend to focus on areas of social cohesion such as interpersonal attraction, degree of friendship and sense of belonging.

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1.3 Aspects of Cohesion

Limitations – Validity is an issue as by emphasising social cohesion other factors such as task cohesion are overlooked. This means that not all of cohesion is being measured. It also forms a limited explanation and is therefore reductionist.

As not all groups break up when their attraction towards one another drops, it is clear that there are reasons of task cohesion the hold groups together not just social cohesion. This shows that a one dimensional approach is not useful in explaining cohesion in sport

Groups are formed for reasons more than attraction. Therefore it suggests that teams are made up of people who hold the same values, eg: Christians in Sport, or goals.There is no clear idea of what cohesiveness is in sport.

Future research – in response to the limitations above, Carron produced a system to create cohesiveness in sports teams.

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Evaluation of Carron

+ Model less reductionist and more useful.

- Can be affected by social determinism or situational explanations of behaviours.

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2. Audience Effect

Audience effect refers to a change in performance brought about by the presence of others. An audience may be passive, as in your family watching you practice at home, or a stadium full of spectators. Alternatively they may be co-acting, that is, taking part in the activity either competitively or co-operatively.

2.1 Theories

2.2 Studies

2.3 Home advantage

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2.1 Audience effect theories

Key study: Cottrell at al (1968) The effects of an audience versus the effects of the 'mere presence' of others.

Aim: To compare a task carried out with a blindfolded audience (mere presence) with one carried out with a non-blindfolded audience.

Sample:  A total of 45 introductory psychology university students performed as pseudo-recognition task; 15 performed the tasks alone. 15 before an audience of two passive spectators. 15 before an audience of two who were not spectators and were blindfolded.

Apparatus and Materials: The stimuli were ten nonsense words – AFWORBU, BIWONJI, CIVADRA, JTEVKANI, LOKANTA, MECBURI, NANSOMA, PARITAF, SARIDIK and ZABDLON. The participants were shown the words on a 4x6 inch photo of each word. They were then tested using 2 x2 inch slides of each word on a projector called a TACHISTOSCOPE (a type of projector that shows an image for a specific but adjustable period time). A stopwatch was used to time the stages of the experiment.

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2.1 Audience effect theories

Procedure  - Words were practiced and pseudo-recognition trials were started.

Subjects were told it was a study of how people learn a foreign language. Hence the strange words.

The number of responses in the pseudo-recognition trials was recorded, giving the dependent variable

  • In the alone condition - the subject was alone in the room during testing.
  • In the audience condition – two confederates posing as fellow introductory psychology students arrived in the experimental room early for a supposed colour-perception experiment. They were allowed to watch the present experiment while waiting for their and thus became an audience.
  • The mere presence condition- was the same as the audience condition, except the confederates were asked to put on blindfolds in preparation for their (alleged) forthcoming experiment.
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2.1 Audience effect theories

Results and Conclusions - Mere presence and alone produce a similar level of response, but the audience condition stands out as having a significantly greater number of responses. This suggests that mere presence, is not sufficient to affect performance, but the audience needs to be involved.

Active or at least alert. The findings are also suggesting that mere presence does in fact increase the individual’s general drive.

On the pseudo-recognition trails the presence of an audience enhanced the emission of dominant responses (the response that supersedes the other possible responses). However, the mere presence of other persons of the same status and in the same physical proximity as the audience did not enhance the emission of dominant responses.

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Evaluation of Cottrell


+ Validity – the study is supported by lots of studies that highlight the effects of an audience.

-Generalisability – Poor, low sample.

+ Application – Good – can help improve sports performance by training athletes in front of an audience.

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2.2 Studies

Key study - Zajonc et al Cockroach studies

Zajonc set up a cockroach run in which he placed a light at one end.

Participants – 72 adult female cockroaches.

1.The alone condition - When the light was turned on, the cockroach ran away from the light as quickly as possible. Zajonc times how long it tool to reach the end of the run. He calculates an average of ten trials.

2.Co-acting Condition – He placed two cockroaches in the run, and again timed how quickly they ran to the end. He calculated the average of ten trials.

3. Non-coacting audience condition- Zajonc built a cockroach grandstand. This was Perspex housing with compartments just large enough to fit one cockroach, though not large enough for them to turn around. This was placed by the side of the run and so formed a non-coacting audience of cockroaches. Again, Zajonc placed a cockroach in the run. And timed how quickly it ran the run, calculating an average of ten trails.

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2.2 Theories

4.The three conditions above were repeated using a cockroach maze instead of a cockroach run. This was complex as opposed to a simple task, hence affecting the dominant response.

Results - Taking the lone cockroach in a cockroach run as a benchmark, the cockroaches in front of the grandstand (the non-coacting audience) were faster, while the coacting cockroaches, running against each other, ran faster!

Taking the lone cockroach in a cockroach maze as a benchmark, the cockroaches in front of the grandstand (the non-coacting  audience) were slower, while the coacting cockroaches, running against each other, ran the slowest.

Conclusions – The first thing Zajonc suggest is that the presence of other increases arousal. When a task is simple, familiar or well learned, this arousal enhances ‘good performance, which is the dominant response in this instance. When a task is novel, complex or unfamiliar, it enhances poor performance , which is the dominant response in this instance. The cockroach run demonstrates the former and the cockroach maze the latter.

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Evaluation of Zajonc


+ Validity – the study is supported by lots of studies that highlight the effects of an audience.

-Generalisability – Poor, difficult to extrapolate from cockroaches!

-Reductionist – The study highlights that the audience effect is biological or innate – not really…..probably more social.

+ Application – Good – can help improve sports performance by training athletes in front of an audience.

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2.3 Home Advantage

Key Study – Schwartz & Barsky (1977) – Home Advantage.


  • Included 1880 major league baseball games played in 1971. This represents 97% of all games played that year in the American and National Leagues.
  • Also recorded were home team outcomes for all 182 games played in 1971 in the professional American and National Football conferences.
  • Same information was gathered from 910 games played by 182 college football teams in 1971.
  • Data gathered from 542 played in both divisions on the National Hockey League in he 1971/72 season – this includes 87% of all the games played that year.
  • 1485 college basketball games played by the Philadelphia area Big 5 teams over a 16 year period (1952-66)


  • Home victories exceed 50% of all games won.
  • The advantage of playing at home differs from one sport to another.
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2.3 Home Advantage results

SPORT (percentage of games won by the home team in baseball, football and hockey)


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2.3 Home Advantage

  • The success at home seems largely attributable to offensive (attacking) play rather than better defensive play. In addition, a hostile crowd can bring about deterioration in the play of the away team rather than improve the performance of the home team, suggesting that an away disadvantage may account for the home advantage.
  • The Arousal theory goes a long way to explaining the findings. The home effect is most pronounced when a strong team hosts a weak team; the damage is most pronounced for the away team when the task is difficult, that is playing away for a strong team. Ironically therefore, successful performance is affected not only by an athlete’s skill and abilities but also the number an enthusiasm f their well-wishers.


  • The major factor in home advantage for all sports is more effective offensive play rather than defensive action.
  • Home advantage is most apparent in the indoor sports of ice hockey and basketball, least so in the outdoor sports of baseball and football.
  • Playing at home or away is as strong a correlate of a team’s performance as is the quality of its players.
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Evaluation of Schwartz and Barsky


+ Large sample so results are generalisable to the sports used.

+ High validity as it providing strong evidence to support the theory that there is a home advantage, however, this is dependent on which sport is being played.

-Individual difference as the fatigue of the fans made a difference to the overall success of the team.

+ Not reductionist as it considers other factors, for example, Arousal theory.

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3. Leadership and Coaching

Leadership is where an individual leads or directs the activities or behaviour of a group towards a shared goal. In the sports setting this can be the leadership of an organization, team or club. Coaching involves a very specific type of leadership whereby one person encourages the development of skills in individuals and in a team.

3.1 Trait and type theories

3.2 Contingency theories

3.3 Coaching

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3.1 Trait and type theories

Key study - Stogdill - Great Man Theory

Are leaders born or made? Stogdill researched many articles on leadership and the trait approach and extracted the relevant data in his quest to find consistency and patterns. Data was obtained from various groups by various methods, giving a broad range of social composition and of different methodologies.

Methodology –

1.     Observation and time sampling of behaviour in group situations – The behaviour of two or more individuals is observed in situations which permit the emergence of leaders.

2.     Choice of associates (voting, naming, ranking, sociometrics) – Members of a group are asked to name the person whom they would prefer as a leader, possibly describing the characteristics which make them a desirable leader.

3.     Nomination by qualified observer- Leaders are named by those in a formal position to identify group leaders such as teachers, club leaders, or other adult observers.

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3.1 Trait and type theories

4. Selection of person occupying position of leadership – Leadership is regarded as the same as holding office or an appointed position of resposiblity.

5. Analysis of biographical and case history data - most of these studies were based on the analysis of biographical data.

6. The listing of traits considered essential to leadership - different groups, such as business executives and members of the professions, were asked to list the traits which they believed essential to leadership.

7. Supplementary aspects – various methods have been employed to determine the traits associated with leadership. Most frequently used are tests of intelligence and personality but we also find questionnaires, rating scales and interviews.

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3.1 Trait and type theories results


  • Chronological Age – Leaders are found to be younger in 6 studies and older in 10 studies – otherwise age has no effect.
  • Height – A weak positive correlation was found to be taller in 9 studies and 2 studies they were shorter.  (Gandhi, Hitler)
  • Weight – A weak positive correlation was found between weight and leadership – leaders are heavier (7 studies)
  • Physique, energy, health – Leaders have superior physique –however no consistent relationship.
  • Appearance - some evidence – leaders present a better appearance.
  • Fluency of speech - Most consistently by leaders- ‘confident tone of voice’ or ‘pleasant voice’ , ‘talkativeness’.
  • Intelligence - leaders are brighter.
  • Scholarship and Knowledge - with a high degree of uniformity leaders are found to better grades than non-leaders and have better knowledge of how to get things done.
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3.1 Trait and type theories evaluation

Conclusion – Stogdill’s research is a good example of many studies that have been conducted into identifying which traits typify the quality of ‘leader’. However, there is little consistency to suggest that a leader in one situation will inevitably be a good leader in a different situation. This lack of a consistent set of qualities to identify a good leader in all situations has always rendered the ‘GREAT LEADER’ approach short on credibility.

Strenths of trait theories

  • First, the trait approach is intuitively appealing. It fits clearly with our notion that leaders are the individuals who are out front and leading the way in our society.
  • A second strength of the trait approach is that it has a century of research to back it up. No other theory can boast of the breadth and depth of studies conducted on the trait approach.
  • Another strength, more conceptual in nature, results from the way the trait approach highlights the leader component in the leadership process. Leadership is composed of leaders, followers, and situations, but the trait approach is devoted to only the first of these leaders.
  • Last, the trait approach has given us some benchmarks for what we need to look for if we want to be leaders.
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3.1 Trait and type theories evaluation


  • First and foremost is the failure of the trait approach to delimit a definitive list of leadership traits.
  • Another criticism is that the trait approach has failed to take situations into account. As Stogdill (1948) pointed out more than 50 years ago, it is difficult to isolate a set of traits that are characteristic of leaders without also factoring situational effects into the equation.
  • In trying to ascertain universal leadership traits, researchers have focused on the link between specific traits and leader emergence, but they have not tried to link leader traits with other outcomes such as productivity or employee satisfaction. For example, trait research does not provide data on whether leaders who might have high intelligence and strong integrity have better results than leaders without these traits. The trait approach is weak in describing how leaders’ traits affect the outcomes of groups and teams in organizational settings.
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3.2 Contingency Theories

Key Study – Chelladurai (1978) Multi-Dimensional Model of Leadership.

Chelladurai (1978) identifies three possible leader behaviours, as follows:

Prescribe leader Behaviour - confirms and conforms to the norms and expectations of the organisation in which leadership is being examined. It is behaviour that is prescribes by the authority of the institution. E.g ‘The captain of the England cricket team sits on the Board of selectors, and his role requires him to turn up when the board meets. This situation determines this behaviour

 Preferred Leader Behaviour - is what the team members would choose their leader t have. It may also mean preferred as in preferable, as a team whose confidence was low would need a leader who was praising, encouraging and gave them some self-belief. Therefore the team members’ preferences or needs determine this behaviour, although the situation could have an impact as well.

Actual Leader Behaviour - is tangible behaviour that the leader really displays, irrespective of the prescribed or preferred behaviour. This is determined by the leader’s traits and innate characteristics.

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3.2 Contingency Theories

Chelladurai suggests that different types of leader behaviour displayed together should be called congruence.

  • When prescribed, actual and preferred leadership are all incongruent then a laissez-faire outcome should ensue. (so when no qualities are met, they should all just get on with it)
  • When prescribed and preferred leadership are congruent but the leader’s actual behaviour is incongruent to these, then the removal of the leader is on the card (leader can’t lead…..then time to go)
  • When preferred leadership is congruent with actual leadership but the prescribed leadership behaviour is incongruent, the team will experience satisfaction but performance may suffer.
  • When prescribed leadership is congruent with actual leadership but the preferred leadership behaviour is incongruent to these, then successful performance is likely but at the expense of team satisfaction.
  • Only when all three are congruent will ideal performance and satisfaction be promoted.
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3.2 Contingency Theories

Congruence table:

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3.2 Contingency Theories

Summary of Chelladurai:

  • This suggests that only when all 3 leadership contingencies are congruent, will there be ideal performance and satisfaction.
  • Actual and Preferred are congruent but the Prescribed style is incongruent then Team satisfaction will be high but perhaps at the expense of Successful performance
  • This suggests that Actual and Preferred would be functional for recreative sport as social cohesion may be more important than task cohesion.
  • Actual and Prescribed are congruent but Preferred style is incongruent then Successful performance is likely but not Team satisfaction.
  • This suggests that Actual and Prescribed would be functional for professional, elite sport as task cohesion is more important than social cohesion.
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3.3 Coaching

Key Study – Smith et al (1977) Coach Effectiveness Training

The hypothesis was that differences in attitudes towards trained versus untrained coaches would be most pronounced for children with low self-esteem.

Participants –

  • 31 Seattle-area male Little League Baseball coaches – from three leagues, involved at a major level - 10-12 year olds and senior level – 13-15 year olds.
  • 18 of the participants were in the experimental condition and attended the training session
  • 13 of the participants were in the control condition, so they had no treatment.
  • The mean ages of the coaches was 36 years with an average of 8 years experience.
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3.3 Coaching

The training sessions -

  • Lasted for 2 hours
  • Participants were presented with guidelines developed from previous research.
  • The goal of the guidelines was to increase positive interactions between coach and players and team mates and reduce fear of failure.
  • The guidelines were designed to increase the coaches awareness of their own behaviour, and focus attention on the guidelines.
  • Behavioural feedback was provided in terms of the 12 behavioural categories in the coaching and behavioural assessment system (CBAS).
  • The coaches were observed during the first 2 weeks of the season by trained coders.

Evaluation Procedures:

  • Coaches from the experimental group and the control group were compared in terms of observed behaviours (observed by 16 undergraduates trained for 4 weeks, by means of the CBAS), players’ perceptions, players’ attitudes to themselves, the coaches, team-mates and the sport. Self esteem was also assessed.
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3.3 Coaching results


Comparability of experimental and control coaches

  • On player-perceived behaviours, there were no significant differences in any of the 12 behaviour categories.
  • A total of 26,412 behaviours were coded during game observations.

Self-esteem changes

  • The trainer group increased their self esteem score from 51 to 52.5, whereas the control group’s self esteem score fell from 52 to 50.7
  • The greatest change in attitudes was found in those whose self-esteem was low.

Team Records

  • Mean winning for trained coaches was 54.5%. Control group was 44.7%.
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3.3 Coaching Conclusion

The results of the study indicate that the experimental training programme exerted a significant and positive influence on coaching behaviours, player-perceived behaviours and children’s attitudes to their coaches, team-mates and other aspects of athletics performance. A positive change was also observed in children who played for the trained coaches.

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Evaluation of Smith et al


  • The training programme exerted a significant positive influence on coaching behaviour. Trained coaches helped increase the self esteem of children.

+ Validity is improved by having a control group.

-      Small, ethnocentric sample so results cannot be generalised outside of Seattle.              

+ Application is good because coaches can use the identified behaviours in order to increase the self-esteem and win rate of their players.

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Social Psychology of Sport Summary

This chapter has provided an overview of the role of the sportsperson as part of a team and has examined sporting activity in the wider context of human interactions. Group dynamics, group cohesion, the effects of an audience and the role of sports leaders and coaches have all been discussed. Although there is one or two well controlled experiment much of this content is theory-driven rather than based on empirical research. For example, Tuckman’s theory of group development.

Empirical research methods in social psychology tend to focus on observational studies, self-report or data collection.  Self-report was used by Carron in investigating group cohesion.

The data collection method was used by Schwartz and Barsky in which the results of hundreds of games across many sports were analysed for evidence of home advantage.

Schwartz and Barsky found that there was some support for home advantage in sports conducted in an environment in which the audience is close to the action, but less so in sports such as baseball where the audience is at a distance from the game. Although most of the studies cited here are not experiments, they are thorough in approach and provide valuable insights into the role of situational factors in sporting achievement.

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