Self-serving Biases in the Competitive Sport Setting: An Attributional Dilemma

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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  • 1 University of California, Los Angeles
  • 2 University of Washington
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The purpose of this field study was to examine the effects of game win-loss and margin of victory or defeat on postgame attributions. Male competitive soccer players (N= 160) were asked to attribute causality for their teams' win or loss and for their individual performance during the game to the internal factors of ability and effort and to the external factors of opponent difficulty and luck. It was proposed that, in sport, self-esteem protecting biases could be constrained by the emphasis placed on internal causal determinants of performance, and by situational norms which limit the acceptability of external attributions. In accordance with these contentions, the findings showed that although winning players attributed greater causality to internal factors than did losers, losing players still assessed internal attributes to be the most important determinants of game outcome and personal performance. Further, losers were not more external in their causal ascriptions than winners. The margin of victory or defeat did not affect players' causal attributions or their judgments of how much ability, effort, difficulty with the opponent, and luck they personally had in the game. The margin of outcome did impact players' judgments regarding how much of these attributes their team had demonstrated during the game.

This research was supported by two grants to the first author: Grant MH 27750-01 from the National Institute of Mental Health and Grant 3188 from the University of California, Los Angeles. The second author was supported by Biomedical Research Support Grant RR07096 from the Graduate School Research Fund, University of Washington, during the preparation of the manuscript. The authors gratefully acknowledge the cooperation received from the American Youth Soccer Organization and its participants. Appreciation is extended to Bernard Weiner and L. Anne Peplau for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Reprint requests should be sent to Tara K. Scanlan, Department of Kinesiology, University of California—Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024.

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