When Football Violence Turns Real

It’s well-established that domestic violence is bad for the children directly exposed to it (and possibly their classmates as well) but experts still debate the drivers of family violence. Economists have traditionally characterized violence as a signal to outside parties or as part of an incentive contract between family members. Others believe that violent episodes occur when the perpetrator loses control. A new paper by David Card and Gordon Dahl tests the latter explanation using data on domestic violence occurring on Sundays during the NFL season. Card and Dahl hypothesize that “negative emotional cues” (i.e., a loss by the home football team) make a loss of control more likely. They find that unexpected losses by the home team “lead to an 8 percent increase in police reports of at-home male-on-female intimate-partner violence.” Furthermore, unexpected losses in important or particularly frustrating games have a 50 to 100 percent larger effect on domestic violence. The authors conclude that “at least a fraction of intimate partner violence appears to represent excessive behavior that is triggered by payoff-irrelevant emotional shocks, rather than strategic instrumental violence that is used to control an intimate partner.” [%comments]

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  1. Bill says:

    It’s well-established that domestic violence is bad for the children directly exposed to it…

    No mention of the women who are victims of domestic violence? I’m pretty certain that it’s even worse for them than the kids.

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  2. Jokin' Smo says:

    Boxing has a sordid history of post-fight increases in murder rates.


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  3. Tracy says:

    Not all guys watch football, you know. Without reading the paper, I wonder if the type of men who watch football are more prone to violence?

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  4. Margo Nelson says:

    I don’t believe AT ALL that incidents of domestic violence take place when perpetrators “lose control”. If this were the case, these incidents would be taking place in all sorts of settings, including public settings, with lots of witnesses.

    I am not aware of outbreaks of violence against partners by fans of losing teams taking place AT sports venues, suggesting that perpetrators of domestic violence have sufficient control to wait until they get home and can assault their partners in privacy. Furthermore, perpetrators of domestic violence are not usually violent to OTHER people with whom, presumably, they get angry at times (their bosses etc) – they are violent to their partners, often exclusively, sometimes have sufficient control to cause injuries only to locations on the body that are not visible when their partner is clothed, and almost always manage to wait until they can assault in privacy before doing so. This seems to evidence that “loss of control” is not necessarily an issue.

    The use of violence as a means of controlling one’s partner is, in my opinion, a deliberate strategy, and not a symptom of poor self-control – and it is a disservice to suggest otherwise -as it implies that these perpetrators do not bear full responsibility for their behavior (they were “out of control”) and have no ability to modify it.

    Finally, as a clinical and research issue, if we fail to accurately understand the thinking processes that may be common to perpetrators of violence, then strategies for the treatment of this behavior are likely to be ineffective. Teaching individuals who are already rather adept at controlling anger to control anger is ineffective as a means of reducing domestic violence in relationships.

    I believe (and my clinical experience would suggest) that focusing on (and challenging) the attitudes held by individuals that allow them to justify their violence toward and control over their partners may be a more effective means of changing this pattern of behavior.

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  5. Van says:

    I was sitting in a bar last week in Shanghai watching the SF 49r’s and the Bears play on TV.
    The Chinese have and interesting reaction to US football,
    One that they found a bit odd was the huge men in helmets hitting each other and you could never see their faces but the real conversations began with the amount of advertising.
    Even in a city (not country) with huge growth with an even larger consumer base, it was the ads for cars and luxury goods the got under everyone’s skin. So is it football or is it the constant advertising blitz that rattles men.
    Bringing out the loss of their favorite team and the SUV they can’t afford?

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  6. Margo Nelson says:

    I would add that while the paper does establish a correlation between triggers for anger or frustration (home team losing a game) and subsequent incidents of violence, this is not evidence that “lack of control” is the intervening variable.

    An alternate hypothesis may be that when feeling angry or frustrated, perpetrators of violence deliberately discharge those feelings by assaulting their partners when they are able to do so in private.

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  7. jimi says:

    It’s prolly more of a function of the alcohol consumed while watching football.

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  8. Walter Wimberly says:

    Tracy – or the other question is does violence go up with other sports games like basketball, baseball, etc, especially if there was a fight in that game?

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