Many fouls committed in football (called soccer in some countries) are ambiguous, and there is no objective way of determining who is the “true” perpetrator or the “true” victim. Consequently, fans as well as referees often rely on a variety of decision cues when judging such foul situations. Based on embodiment research, which links perceptions of height to concepts of strength, power, and aggression, we argue that height is going to be one of the decision cues used. As a result, people are more likely to attribute a foul in an ambiguous tackle situation to the taller of two players. We find consistent support for our hypothesis, not only in field data spanning the last seven UEFA Champions League and German Bundesliga seasons, as well as the last three FIFA World Cups, but also in two experimental studies. The resulting dilemma for refereeing in practice is discussed.
Van Quaquebeke and Giessner are with the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands.