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Domestic violence reports found to spike after sporting upsets

March 22, 2011
Courtesy of Oxford University Press
and World Science staff

Calls to po­lice re­port­ing men's as­saults on their wives or girl­friends rose 10 per­cent in ar­eas where the lo­cal Na­t­ional Foot­ball League team un­ex­pectedly lost a game, a U.S. study has found.

The find­ings, pub­lished in The Quar­terly Jour­nal of Eco­nom­ics, are based on an anal­y­sis of 900 regular-season NFL games be­tween 1995 and 2006.

Foot­ball games are emo­tion­ally lad­en events of wide­spread in­ter­est, typ­ic­ally gar­ner­ing 25 per­cent or more of a lo­cal tel­e­vi­sion view­ing au­di­ence, the re­search­ers not­ed. The dis­ap­point­ment of an un­ex­pected loss, they con­clud­ed, could spur some fans to re­act badly.

“Our re­sults sug­gest that the over­all rise in vi­o­lence be­tween the in­ti­mate part­ners we stud­ied is driv­en en­tirely by losses in games that mat­ter most to fans,” said study co-author Da­vid Card of the Un­ivers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. The tim­ing of the calls to po­lice al­so in­di­cat­ed that vi­o­lence oc­curred with­in a nar­row win­dow roughly cor­re­spond­ing to the fi­nal hour of a game and the two hours af­ter, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors added.

Card and and co-author Gor­don Dahl of the Un­ivers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Die­go say their find­ings con­firm ear­li­er work sug­gesting un­ex­pected dis­ap­point­ments af­fect us more strongly than pleas­ant sur­prises. “This is not lim­it­ed to foot­bal­l,” Card said. “Some­one who gets a speed­ing tick­et on the way home, for ex­am­ple, might al­so be more likely to act out in a way he would lat­er re­gret.”

Card and Dahl com­pared the pre-game bet­ting odds to the game re­sults of regular-season games for six NFL teams: the Car­o­li­na Pan­thers, De­troit Li­ons, New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, Den­ver Bron­cos, Kan­sas ­city Chiefs and Ten­nes­see Titans. This in­forma­t­ion was matched to records col­lect­ed from 763 ju­ris­dic­tions in the rel­e­vant states from the Na­t­ional Incident-Based Re­port­ing Sys­tem, a database of lo­cal po­lice re­ports.

In a third of the games they tracked, the lo­cal team was ex­pected to win by four or more points. When the fa­vored team lost, how­ev­er, Card and Dahl's anal­y­sis showed a spike in re­ports of vi­o­lence by men against a fe­male part­ner at home, as com­pared to weeks the home team did not have a game.

The pat­tern was found to be strongest for losses the au­thors judged to be more emo­tion­ally charged. For ex­am­ple, the rise in po­lice re­ports af­ter up­set losses to a tra­di­tion­al ri­val (20 per­cent) was about twice that af­ter up­set losses to a non-ri­val team (8 per­cent). 

Vi­o­lence was al­so more likely to in­crease when the lo­cal team was still in play­off con­ten­tion or had a par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing per­for­mance—suffer­ing four or more sacks or turn­overs or los­ing 80 or more yards to penal­ties, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors found. An anal­y­sis of the com­bined ef­fect of these fac­tors showed a 17 per­cent in­crease in re­ports of vi­o­lence af­ter an up­set loss to a ri­val team while the lo­cal team was still in play­off con­ten­tion. Vi­o­lence was not found to rise ap­pre­ciably af­ter up­set losses when these cri­te­ria did not ap­ply.


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Calls to police reporting men's assaults on their wives or intimate partners rose 10 percent in areas where the local National Football League team unexpectedly lost a game, a U.S. study has found. The findings, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, are based on an analysis of 900 regular-season NFL games. Football games are emotionally laden events of widespread interest, typically garnering 25 percent or more of a local television viewing audience, the researchers noted. The disappointment of an unexpected loss, they concluded, could spur some fans to react inappropriately. “Our results suggest that the overall rise in violence between the intimate partners we studied is driven entirely by losses in games that matter most to fans,” said study co-author David Card of the University of California, Berkeley. The timing of the calls to police also indicated that violence occurred within a narrow window roughly corresponding to the final hour of a game and the two hours after, the investigators added. Card and and co-author Gordon Dahl of the University of California, San Diego say their findings confirm earlier work suggesting unexpected disappointments affect us more strongly than pleasant surprises. “This is not limited to football,” Card said. “Someone who gets a speeding ticket on the way home, for example, might also be more likely to act out in a way he would later regret.” Card and Dahl compared the pre-game betting odds to the game results of regular-season games for six NFL teams—the Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans—between 1995 and 2006. This information was matched to records collected from 763 jurisdictions in the relevant states from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, a database of local police reports. In a third of the games they tracked, the local team was expected to win by four or more points. When the favored team lost, however, Card and Dahl's analysis showed a spike in reports of violence by men against a female partner at home, as compared to weeks the home team did not have a game. The pattern was found to be strongest for losses the authors judged to be more emotionally charged. For example, the rise in police reports after upset losses to a traditional rival (20 percent) was about twice that after upset losses to a non-rival team (8 percent). Violence was also more likely to increase when the local team was still in playoff contention or had a particularly frustrating performance—suffering four or more sacks or turnovers or losing 80 or more yards to penalties, the investigators found. An analysis of the combined effect of these factors showed a 17 percent increase in reports of violence after an upset loss to a rival team while the local team was still in playoff contention. Violence did not rise appreciably after upset losses when these criteria did not apply, for example, when the local team was no longer in playoff contention, the opponent was not a rival, or the local team's performance was not especially egregious.