Dr LIC's Krazy SyEnce Korner Pt. 2011
Hello, all. While stumbling around the web, I found this phenomenal little paper by behavioral scientists, Emily M. Zitek and Alex Jordan, entitled, Anger, aggression, and athletics: Technical fouls predict performance outcomes in the NBA." From the abstract:
A dataset including all players from five consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) seasons was analyzed to determine the relationship between displays of hostile aggression—as measured by the number of technical fouls a player received—and markers of successful performance. Analyses revealed that a greater number of technical fouls predicted success in aspects of the game that require power and energy, such as making field goals, grabbing rebounds, and blocking shots. However, a greater number of technical fouls was also associated with performance decrements in aspects of the game that require precision and carefulness, such as making three-pointers.
This paper harkens back to an idea I long ago discussed with resident statistician Silverbird 5000. We wondered why the best players in the league--this year Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and Amare Stoudemire--consistently lead the league in technical fouls. Certainly their increased playing time contributes to this recurring phenomenon, but we speculated that even controlling for playing time, one would see that better players are called for more technicals. This could occur for a number of reasons--the increased salience of star players, the increased tendency of star players to beg for star treatment (and thus face consequences), or even a subconscious intuitive sense of justice that the refs feel toward punishing the players who are the most well to do.
Zitek and Jordan's article points to a link between on-court performance and techs, but points to a more nuanced relationship. First, they note that technical fouls constitute a special kind of aggression--hostile aggression (aggression for aggression's sake), rather than instrumental aggression (aggression that serves a particular goal in the sport like checking in hockey). The interesting finding is that although this form of aggression has no particular aim, it has adaptive consequences for success in the more energy-laden/rough-and-tumble aspects of basketball--getting to the line, rebounding, blocking shots, and overall field goal percentage. On the other hand, technical fouls had negative effects on the more finesse aspects of the game such as assists and three-point shooting. Note that the authors controlled for key factors in their analyses such as position of the player and minutes played.
The authors conclude that this form of hostile aggression allows players to maintain a level of high arousal necessary for the high-energy components of the game. All of which gives credence to one of the observations from our first book:
Of course, as the authors note, caution must be taken in interpreting too much from this correlational research. Still, it is nice to confirm what fans of high intensity players have always suspected--that there is a potential benefit to receiving technical fouls.