“They Saw a Game” in a Modern Context

Hastorf and Cantril’s (1954) seminal case study relating to differing versions of a Dartmouth-Princeton game perceived by fans on either side remains remarkably relevant today. Back in the 50s, sports fans were constructing their own realities about what transpired in a game, influenced by their own affiliations and biases. This phenomenon continues to today, as sports fans continue to differ from each other on what they “see” in a game, dependent on whom their rooting interest lies with or their other biases and prejudices that they bring with them. For example, in a recent college basketball game, Illinois and Minnesota were locked in a close game, with Illinois up three points late in the game. With less than 10 seconds left, a Minnesota player drove into the lane, even though he would need to be fouled and make the basket to have a chance to tie the game. As luck would have it, the referees called a foul on Illinois’s best player, Meyers Leonard, as the Minnesota player converted the bucket. This foul was especially crucial, as it was Leonard’s fifth, and therefore disqualified him from the rest of the game, including the soon-to-come overtime period. However, immediately this foul was the subject of heated debate online by Illinois fans, Minnesota fans, and neutral observers. Some fans saw it one way and some saw it the other. Quite tellingly, on a Illinois sports message board, a pair of the fans, reviewing a photo of the foul, came to the following pair of conclusions:

So one fan saw it as a foul, and another didn’t see it as a foul, even though they were looking at the exact same picture and presumably were both watching the game in real time. Whoever is right is actually inconsequential for our purposes; rather, it is purely interesting that these two fans came to opposite conclusions on what is the same evidence. However, as Hastorf and Cantril, and other social psychologists have noted after them, these fans may not have really been seeing the seem evidence in a way. Since we construct our own realities, and these realities are affected by our past experiences, our group affiliations, our biases, and a whole host of other factors, what information we might actually make a judgment on may differ wildly from person to person. However, considering that, why would two fans of the same team come to different conclusions, as in our example? Well, to posit one explanation, the fan who thought it was a foul might be invested in the Illinois basketball team, and he saw this game as unfairly taken away from the team by the referees, who may have called Leonard for a borderline foul in a crucial moment. And perhaps the other fan, who did not think it was a foul, thinks of himself as a more “impartial” fan, is making up for what he perceives as the other fan’s bias favoring Illinois, and takes it upon himself to set the record straight. Now, if we read further in the forum, we find that the rhetoric between these two fans, and others who join either side of the argument about the foul, escalates, as the two are both expressing disbelief that the other is actually looking at the right picture of the foul. And in that point, in an anecdotal sense, is modern evidence for what Hastorf and Cantril saw in the 1950s with Dartmouth and Princeton fans.


Photo Credit: http://forums.illinihq.com/topic/21682-the-officiating/