Doping, Bad Referees And More: 9 Weird Things Psychology Explains About Sports

Published March 18, 2016
Updated January 30, 2018

4. Why the “home field advantage” may not be such an advantage after all

Sports Psychology Home Field

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Athletes are not immune to psychological effects, either — take the perceived “home field advantage,” for example. The term describes the perceived benefits wherein a team, by playing at “home,” avoids the tiring nuisance of travel, is familiar with the field, and typically has more fans in the stands cheering them on.

These perceived benefits do come with their own costs, which Florida State psychologist Roy Baumeister describes in the “home choke hypothesis.” Essentially, this suggests that a team playing at home in a playoff situation is actually at a disadvantage because they are more self-conscious and thus unable to focus on the game at hand.

The hypothesis goes on to say that the perceived advantage may lead to overconfidence and thus carelessness, with the result that the team may crumble when they find themselves losing, stunned that they couldn’t make this “advantage” work in their favor.

5. Why we all have such a strong, innate desire to win

Sports Psychology Second Place

Photo: / Korean Culture and Information Service Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

To say that “winning isn’t everything” could actually be a lie. Indeed, Trinity College psychology professor Ian Robertson says that it’s “probably the single most important thing in shaping people’s lives.”

In his book The Winner Effect, Robertson explores the immense drive we possess to win, and it seems to be rooted deep within us at a biological level. “Winning increases testosterone, which in turn increases the chemical messenger dopamine, and that dopamine hits the reward network in the brain, which makes us feel better,” Robertson said.

There’s really no substitute for winning – not even being second best. Neuroscientist Scott Huettel highlights this in his observations of Olympic medalists: in photos taken of the athletes on the podium, the silver medalist often looks vexed, where the gold and bronze winners look quite pleased.

“The bronze medalists had thoughts that compared themselves to everybody else, so they thought, ‘Wow, if I’d only done a little worse, I would be one of those many people that’s not here on the medal stand — I made it, I’m a medalist!'” said Huettel. “The silver medalists, though, had thoughts that compared themselves to the gold medalist — I just missed it!'”

6. Why winners are more likely to cheat than losers

sports psychology OJ

Photo: Charles LeBlanc Image Source: Flickr

Say you’ve just won some sort of competition. You have no reason to cheat, right? Not so, say researchers at Ben-Gurion University. In tests, competition winners behaved more dishonestly when compared to losers in a subsequent and unrelated task – one which asked them to steal from their counterparts.

What’s the explanation for this strange behavior? Researchers say it has to do with a sense of entitlement that comes after beating a competitor, which can often result in unethical behavior. “These findings suggest that the way in which people measure success affects their honesty,” said Dr. Amos Schurr from BG University.

“When success is measured by social comparison, as is the case when winning a competition, dishonesty increases,” he continued. “When success does not involve social comparison, as is the case when meeting a set goal, defined standard or recalling a personal achievement, dishonesty decreases.”

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kelly, Erin. "Doping, Bad Referees And More: 9 Weird Things Psychology Explains About Sports.", March 18, 2016, Accessed May 29, 2024.