In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Brad Bushman of Ohio State University examines the relationship between victory and a competitor’s aggressive behavior.
Brad Bushman is a professor of communication and psychology and the Margaret Hall and Robert Randal Rinehart Chair of Mass Communication at Ohio State University where he studies the causes and consequences of human aggression and violence. His research has been featured on numerous television programs and in more than 100 peer-reviewed academic journals. He holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Missouri.
Dr. Brad Bushman – Victory and Aggression
Good sportsmanship is an important value in our society. We appreciate gracious winners and good losers. We know that competitors don’t always meet the ideals of good sportsmanship. But who exactly are most likely to fail – winners or losers? My colleagues and I recently studied that question and found that the answer is: the winners. We found that people who bested a rival in a competition acted aggressively against the vanquished. Meanwhile, the losers didn’t act any more aggressively than normal against those who defeated them. Here’s an example of what we did in one of the studies. We told 103 American college students that they would be paired with an unseen partner who they would be competing against in two simple computer games. In actuality, there was no partner. After the first game, we told half the students that they did better than their supposed partner, and half were told they did worse. In other words, half were winners and half were losers. Before the second game, we told the students that the winners would be able to blast the loser with loud noise through headphones. We found that participants who won in the first competition blasted their partners longer and louder than did those who lost the competition. We got the same results in three different experiments in two different countries, so we are confident that the results are reliable. The findings support a long line of research that suggests people are more aggressive when they feel powerful, as they may when they win a competition. Winners, it seems, have a tendency to stomp down on those they have defeated, to really rub it in. They may feel they have the right, as winners, to do what they want to losers. So, for their own safety, losers need to watch out.