Case study: Dissertation - Literature Review


Within previous years involvement in sport has commonly been linked to positive moral development, with participation widely known for both nurturing and revealing highly regarded virtues such as courage, self-control, truthfulness, respect and fairness (Bredemeier, Weiss, Shields & Shewchuk, 1986). However, within today's more modern sporting society, displays of unsportspersonlike behaviours are increasingly evident across all levels of sport (Hopkins & Lantz, 1999). At present it is more common for immoral sporting behaviours in the form of cheating, aggression and disrespect (Bredemeier & Shields, 2006) to somewhat overshadow those moral sporting behaviours, which were once more apparent.

As this has proved to be the case, the relationship between sports and morality has become an area of continuous debate within modern society. To date, studies that have examined the relationship have recognised a number of emerging trends, however a wide number of these findings have proved inconsistent (Tucker & Parks, 2001). Within this review focus will be paid specifically to the relationship between sports participation and morality in terms of; moral reasoning, aggression, cheating and sportspersonship. The gender differences in relation to these variables will be addressed in conjunction with the differences in emotion experienced by males and females and how these affect their moral behaviours and attitudes.

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Moral reasoning is a term widely used to underpin the thought process an individual goes through when reaching a moral decision. Within early research a possible link between sport involvement and lower levels of moral reasoning was proposed (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). A study by Shields and Bredemeier (1995) examined this claim through directly comparing athletes and non-athletes' moral reasoning in sporting and non-sporting settings. In order to achieve this high school basketball players, swimmers and non-athletes were interviewed about issues surrounding morality in both daily life and sporting contexts. Results concluded that within sport moral reasoning was extensively lower than daily life within all population sub groups (female, male, non-athletes, high school, college; athlete). In a later review of literature, a number of broad assumptions about morality and sports people were then made. It was asserted by Shields & Bredemeier (2007) that when competing in sport athletes alter their moral framework, which they adopt within everyday life. Secondly, it was further posited that athletes in general are more likely than that of the non-sporting population to be characterised by lower levels of moral reasoning.

Gender has also been linked to moral reasoning. A study by Boardley & Kavussanu (2007) found a positive relationship between gender and moral reasoning, with males reporting significantly lower levels than that of females. Similarly, studies by Beller & Stoll (1995) and Gardner & Janelle (2002) reported that both youth and adult males score significantly lower, with higher levels of aggression being perceived as legitimate behaviour when compared to the perceptions of females. As a result, literature to date suggests that males report higher levels of moral disengagement, consequently reporting a higher likelihood to sanction the use of aggression and a greater expectancy to engage in antisocial behaviours.

Sportspersonship, more formally referred to as sportsmanship, is a term used to include adaptive and pro-social virtues in a sportsperson. Examples of sports-person-like behaviours include self-control, persistence, fairness and courage (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). Within the contemporary sports setting it is not uncommon for demonstrations of un-sportsperson-like behaviours to be displayed, regardless of competitive level (Hopkins & Lantz, 1999). To date, a number of studies have explored the role of gender in relation to sportspersonship orientation. Research within the youth sport setting concluded that there was no identifiable link between gender and sportspersonship orientation (Bredemeier, 1995). Conversely, Duda et al (1991) and Kavussanu & Roberts (2001) found that female basketball players reported higher levels of moral functioning when compared to males. In 2005, Tsai and Fung supported these findings and produced data to suggest that females are more likely to display pro-social behaviours such as helping an opponent regain their feet after a tackle than that of their male counterparts. The findings outlined above suggest that women are less likely to engage in immoral actions than men, however, no explanation for this finding is offered.

Gender differences in relation to cheating are also widely covered within literature. Cheating characteristically is pursued by an athlete in an attempt to create an advantage for himself or herself at the expense of their opponent. A study by Lee et al (2007) found distinct differences between males and older athletes and females and younger athletes with results indicating that those males over the age of 14 were significantly more accepting of cheating and violation of the rules than those females over the age of 11.

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According to Bandura's (1991) social cognitive theory of moral thought and action there is a positive relationship between moral disengagement and anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviours such as deliberately breaking the laws of the game and behaving negatively towards an injured opponent are aggressive behaviours often conveyed by athletes (Boardley & Kavussanu, 2007). Within the sporting environment, aggression can be defined as "the intention to harm another outside the rules of the activity" (Tenenbaum et al, 1997). Evidence at the present time continually suggests that males manifest a greater level of aggressiveness than that of females (Buss & Perry, 1992; Knight, Guthrie, Page, & Fabes, 2002). Weinstein, Smith & Wiesenthal (1995) further noted that those males who followed the conventional ideas of masculinity were more likely to engage in aggressive behaviours than those who embraced less conventional beliefs (cited in Horn, 2008. pp.200).

Within this line of research examining aggressive tendencies within sport most attention has been devoted to those athletes who compete within medium and high contact sports. The reasoning behind this being that these sports possess a greater potential for injury and therefore raise a larger number of issues surrounding the concept of morality (Horn, 2008). A study by Conroy et al (2001) recently revealed that both being male and continued participation in medium and high contact sports led to athletes showing demonstrating heightened aggressiveness and a greater tendency to perceive their aggressive actions as legitimate.

Several explanations have been offered as to why the connection between medium and high contact sports and low levels of moral functioning exists, the most prominent being the motivational orientation of an athlete. Motivational orientations are widely recognised as a related framework to the moral judgments and behaviours displayed by athletes. When attempting to explain the reasons behind why athletes act immorally during sports participation and how they legitimise such actions, this framework often proves useful. According to Kavussanu and Ntoumanis (2003) ego orientation is the primary mediator between high contact sports and low moral functioning. Due to the nature of contact sports, athletes are required to interact with their opponents with domination and success over their counterparts being the main focus. Over time, it is common for athletes to therefore adopt some form of other referenced criteria to assess their proficiency, this in turn enhancing ego orientation over extensive periods of time. In contrast, the same trend does not exist for those non-contact sports, primarily due to the lack of direct contact made with the opposition.

Focus within non-contact sports conversely promotes greater task orientation, as the execution of the task is more important to success than physical superiority over fellow competitors. In conclusion, Levin et al (1995) and Tucker & Parks (2001) confirmed this trend, with findings indicating that those male athletes who participate in high contact sports and those female athletes who participate in medium contact sports positively exhibit less mature moral reasoning, greater legitimacy of aggressive behaviour and more frequent aggressive tendencies.

Despite all of the above works, research into the gender differences in emotion and the possible mediating role of emotion in the gender-morality relationship is limited. Within literature it is generally accepted that women and men experience and display emotions in different ways within sports participation (Shield & Kostner, 1989). Research findings have suggested that women experience more depression (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987) as well as more socially undesirable self-orientated emotions such as shame and guilt (Tangney, 1990). In addition they also report more socially desirable other orientated emotions such as empathy (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983). In contrast to this, men experience more socially desirable self- orientated emotions such as pride (Tagney, 1990), with the addition of more socially undesirable other orientated emotions such as contempt (Stapley & Haviland, 1989). These differences in emotional response may account for gender differences in moral attitudes and behaviours.

Passion is a well-documented emotion is regards to sports participation. The concept of passion within a sporting context can be defined as 'high-priority goals with emotionally important outcomes' (Frijda et al, 1991). In 2007, Vallerand expanded upon the initial concept of passion through suggesting that two forms of passion exist; harmonious passion (HP) and obsessive passion (OP). Those athletes who are obsessively passionate engage in an action because they feel they are compelled to do so whereas those athletes who are harmoniously passionate engage in an activity willingly because they have chosen to do so. Accordingly, Vallerands's (2007) Dualistic Model therefore suggests that HP should lead to more positive outcomes whereas OP will lead to negative outcomes when engaged in sporting activity.

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A study by Phillippe et al (2007) looked at passion as a determinant of aggressive behaviours. Findings indicated that obsessive passion was positively associated with aggressive behaviours, with anger being the predominant mediator of this relationship. Donahue et al (2009) further supported these findings in a study examining passion and aggression in sport. It was concluded that those athletes who are more obsessively passionate in nature are more likely to respond with reactive aggression in the face of provocation than those driven by HP. In line with this research findings by Brebner (2003) indicated that females experience a greater number of emotions related to harmonious passion such as joy when compared to that of their male counterparts. This could suggest that females possess a greater level of HP and therefore could be accountable for them engaging in fewer acts of aggression and un-sportsperson like behaviours. Conversely, feelings of pressure are associated with the development of an obsessive passion. In many cases the pressure for male athletes to display their masculinity could lead to a greater level of OP, in turn leading to aggressive reactions to opponents when they feel their masculinity is under threat (REF?). It could be suggested that this is however less likely to be the case for females as those athletes with greater HP are less likely to engage in aggressive acts even when under self-threat. According to Vallerand (2003) this is due to the non-defensive mode of functioning that harmoniously passionate athletes display, consequently making them less likely to engage in aggressive behaviour, which is deemed unnecessary.

The role of empathy on moral judgements has been widely studied. It has been found that women display more empathy than men (Kavussanu et al, 2009). In turn, it has been shown that high levels of empathy are negatively correlated with the likelihood an individual will engage in an aggressive act (Eisenberg et al, 2006). High levels of empathy have also been negatively associated with anti-social behaviour (Kavussanu & Boardley, 2009). A number of Spanish research teams have confirmed the positive effect of empathy on moral behaviours. Studies were completed with Spanish adolescent populations and gender was found to be a relevant moderating factor (Calvo, González, & Martorell, 2001; Mestre, Samper, & Frías, 2002; Sobral, Romero, Luengo, & Marzoa, 2000). Other studies have also found that higher levels of empathy are associated with a less negative reaction to being insulted, especially in males (Toussaint & Webb, 2005). This suggests the possible mediating role of emotion in the gender-morality relationship.

Gender differences were also found when considering the intensity of the emotions experienced. Women experienced all emotions more intensely, except pride, where again men scored higher. Gender specific emotional responses may therefore be implicated in moral judgements in the sport setting. With males engaging in more immoral actions in order to conserve their pride, whilst women engaging in less immoral actions due to their heightened fear of being reprimanded for their actions. In addition to the findings outlined above, Brebner (2003) found statistically significant differences between genders in the frequency of eight different emotions. Females scored higher for the frequency of affection, anger, fear, joy and sadness, whilst males scored higher on pride.

Purposes and hypotheses

Despite the significant amount of research surrounding the link between sport involvement and lower levels of moral reasoning, the interactions between this link, gender and emotion, have not yet been fully explored. Therefore the main purpose of this study is to fill the current gap in the literature regarding the interactions between gender and emotion and how this affects moral behaviours such cheating, gamesmanship, sportspersonship and aggression.


1. Male athletes will report more socially desirable self-orientated emotions such as pride whilst women will experience more socially desirable other-orientated emotions such as empathy.

2. Male athletes will report a higher likelihood to sanction the use of aggression and in turn will be more likely to cheat and engage in immoral behaviours than that of females.

3. Male athletes will display poorer attitudes towards sportspersonship whereas females will display more desirable sportspersonship attitudes.

(2, 207 WORDS)


Emotions and moral judgments have been found to be related to one another through studies of brain activity. Moll, de Oliveira-Souza, and Eslinger (2003) found that when subjects made moral judgements, areas of the brain that are associated with emotional response were active. The same activity was not found when subjects made factual judgments. In addition to this, several researchers have argued that emotions are the source of our intuitive moral judgements (Huebner et al, 2008).