Friday, 8 June 2012

Race and foul judgments in football - it's not black and white

Racism continues to cast its ugly shadow over football. As the European Football Championships kick-off today, the British government has advised fans of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent to "take extra care" when in Ukraine, host nation with Poland. Meanwhile, England defender and ex-captain John Terry awaits his trial for alleged racism. Against this background, a team of Swiss psychologists has just published a preliminary investigation into the potential effect of racial prejudice on fans', players' and referees' judgements about the severity of fouls by Black and White players.

Pascal Gygax and his colleagues presented 43 White football players, 17 White referees and 22 White football fans with 64 challenge sequences created with the Xbox 360 console game Fifa 2005. Each sequence featured one player tackling another, and the clips had been rated by independent judges as ambiguous as regards the legality of the challenge. Players in the clips were White or Black and wore either green or white shirts. After watching each clip (between one and two minutes in length), the participants had to say whether a foul had been committed, and if so, rate its severity.

Based on previous evidence of racial prejudice towards Black athletes, the researchers anticipated that challenges by Black players would be judged harshly, particularly if they were challenges against a White player. Although the results did uncover evidence that race affects people's judgements of fouls, the pattern of results was complicated.

There were signs the participants were sensitive to the risk of appearing biased, in that they were less likely to judge a foul had occurred whenever a sequence involved two players of different skin colour. Referees specifically were less likely to judge that a foul had occurred when a challenge was by a Black player. Paradoxically, participants overall were quicker to decide that a foul had occurred when a challenge was by a Black player, possibly because they harboured implicit expectations that Black players will be more likely to commit fouls.

When it came to the severity ratings, there was evidence for bias against White players - fouls by them were always judged as more serious, perhaps a consequence of compensatory efforts by the participants to appear non-biased. On the other hand, challenges on Black players were rated as less severe than challenges on White players, perhaps indicative of prejudice by the White participants.

"In essence," the researchers explained, "participants have conflicting sources of information which result in differential treatments of White and Black players, at times discriminatory to Black players, and at times to White players." An alternative, more pessimistic explanation put forward by Gygax and his team is that the participants expected Black players to be more aggressive and so raised the threshold for what they considered to be severe when judging their challenges.

The researchers acknowledged the limitations of their study - most obviously that they'd relied on video game clips rather than real-life footage. However, they said they'd uncovered evidence of discrimination in the judgement of football challenges, and that crucially, "those were not always against Black players: thus, differentiation judgments in soccer based on skin colour may not be a black or white judgment."



Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

Prejudice is definately being displayed in this article. Number one: Prejudice is a negative behavior towards a specific person or group. In this case "black people" are being targeted. It shows that black people were being penalized MORE than whites for the severity of their fouls. Yes, whites were penalized, but why does it have to be that "blacks are more likely to foul more than whites"? To me that is kind of like a stereotype. It is amazing how referees tried to call less fouls on black people just to prove that they were not racist or displaying prejudice, but obviously it is known that blacks had more penalties and serverities than whites. I also see ethnocentrism in this article; proving that whites are the superior ones (compared to blacks)becuase they BASICALLY got away with the same things blacks did. I think people jus had to tweek the words a bit to make it not sound as bad. I find this article to be very interesting and insightful to those who take these situations seriously!

cm729 said...

I have been learning about Social Psychology in my psych 101 course recently, and it is clear that prejudice is playing a factor in this situation. If this were a completely non-prejudice situation, then as long as the act of the foul were replicated consistently (which should not be difficult if it were a video game) then the participants should have given similar ratings on fouls no matter the race of the players. This appears not to be the case.
The most interesting note about this article, as the previous commenter pointed out, is that the evidence suggested that the participants "were sensitive to the risk of appearing biased, in that they were less likely to judge a foul had occurred whenever a sequence involved two players of different skin colour." So the opposite of the expected bias was shown, but that still does not clear the participants of being biased.
I enjoyed reading this article as it brings up a good point of bias that occurs even in professional sports, a place it most certainly should be minimized.

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