Height Bias in Soccer: Larger Players More Blamed?

Illustration depicting taller soccer player being penalized more often due to height bias.

In the world of soccer, is there a height-related bias affecting players’ perception on the field? According to a 2010 Dutch study, shorter players might find it beneficial to take a fall after a slight push. In such scenarios, the referee’s whistle often follows, indicting the taller player for the foul. But is this really justified or do refs unconsciously view taller players as more aggressive?

Read more: Height Bias in Soccer: Larger Players More Blamed?

The Typical Scenario on the Field:

Imagine a scene where a smaller forward gets a slight push from a taller central defender. The referee promptly blows his whistle, the defender retorts, and the game resumes. Such infractions are commonplace, but does size play an unconscious role in these judgments?

Niels van Quaquebeke and Steffen Giessner spent seven years investigating recorded soccer infractions. Their findings, published in the “Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology,” suggest that our cognitive wiring might unintentionally equate height with concepts like “aggression” and “dominance.”

Rooted in Evolutionary Understanding:

Historically, we’ve associated larger stature with dominance and aggression. These evolutionary biases can unintentionally influence our judgments, especially in dynamic sports like soccer where identifying the real “culprit” can be challenging. Referees might inadvertently lean on their “gut feeling” and the taller player could end up penalized merely because of the subconscious association: Height = Aggression.

Diving Deep into the Data:

To test their theory, the researchers analyzed infractions from seven seasons of the UEFA Champions League (32,142 fouls), the German Bundesliga (85,262 fouls), and three FIFA World Cups (6,440 fouls). Across the board, the results consistently showed that taller players were more frequently blamed for fouls.

Furthermore, observational studies using soccer fans presented a consistent image. When shown a picture of two players of varying heights running towards a ball, and told that the taller player ends up on the ground, the fans attributed it to mere coincidence or diving. However, if the shorter player was said to fall, the blame was swiftly placed on the taller individual.

Concluding Thoughts: Are We Wired to Blame the Bigger Player?:

The study’s findings highlight our innate tendency to associate mistakes with the taller individual on the field. Recognizing this bias is crucial not just for fans, but especially for referees. So, the next time you see a taller player involved in a foul, question if you’re being tricked by your own cognitive biases!


Dit respectievelijke artikel is gepubliceerd in het Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology: van Quaquebeke, N., & Giessner, S. (2010). Hoe belichaamde cognities oordelen beïnvloeden: hoogtegerelateerde attributiebias bij voetbalfouten. Tijdschrift voor sport- en bewegingspsychologie , 32(1), 3-22.

maar is ook gratis te vinden op http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1542487 .

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