The term moral behavior is used with at least two different meanings in the literature. The first is when researchers explicitly define moral behavior and refer to the conditions in which an act is right, or ethical; when these conditions are met, the behavior can be called moral. For example, Augusto Blasi defined moral behavior as behavior that is intentional and a response to some sense of obligation, with the latter being a response to an ideal. James Rest stated that without knowing what produced the behavior we cannot call it moral. David Shields and Brenda Bredemeier have emphasized the importance of assessing a person’s motives in the study of moral behavior. Albert Bandura highlighted the consequences of the act as important considerations for the labeling of behavior. When the term moral behavior is used in this manner, researchers do not call measured behavior “moral” because from this perspective we cannot call behavior moral unless we know one’s motives for the behavior.
The second meaning of the term moral behavior is behavior that is the subject of the moral domain. Elliot Turiel and his colleagues found that children and adolescents perceive behavior as a moral transgression when it is intentional and has consequences for the victim. Behaviors that are classified in the moral domain are these that involve physical harm (e.g., pushing, shoving, and hitting), psychological harm (e.g., teasing, hurting feelings, ridiculing, or name calling), fairness and rights (e.g., breaking a promise or destroying others’ property), and positive behaviors (e.g., helping another in need, and sharing). Although researchers do not always explicitly refer to the moral domain, the meaning of the term moral behavior is implied by the content of reviews or articles that refer to moral action but discuss research on poor sporting behavior, temptation to play unfairly, prosocial behavior, and aggression. This entry introduces prosocial and antisocial behaviors, which have been referred to collectively in past research as moral behavior. First, prosocial and antisocial behaviors are defined providing examples from the sport context. Then their measurement is discussed followed by a description of the antecedents of these behaviors. The entry ends with some concluding remarks.
In sport, as in any interpersonal context, intentional behaviors that typically have positive or negative consequences for others occur. For example, athletes encourage and support their teammates after a mistake and also help other players off the floor or when they are injured but also cheat, break the rules, or try to hurt other players. These two sets of behavior correspond to what Bandura has called proactive and inhibitive morality, respectively—that is people doing good things but also refraining from doing bad things. The terms prosocial and antisocial behavior have been linked to proactive and inhibitive morality, respectively, and are defined next.
Prosocial behavior is voluntary behavior intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals. Examples in sport are lending equipment to an opponent; helping another player off the floor; and encouraging, supporting, or congratulating a teammate. Prosocial behavior can be performed for a variety of reasons. For instance, when a basketball player helps his teammate off the floor, he intends to help or benefit the recipient. However, he could do this because he truly cares about his teammate, or he wants to impress his coach, or he expects to receive some other benefit. Thus, although the behavior is voluntary (i.e., nonaccidental) the reasons for the behavior can vary.
Antisocial behavior is behavior intended to harm or disadvantage another individual or group of individuals. Examples of antisocial behavior in sport are trying to injure an opponent, verbally abusing a teammate, retaliating after a bad foul, faking an injury, and breaking the rules of the game. Antisocial behavior overlaps with aggression, which is verbal or physical behavior that is purposeful, intended to cause injury, and has the capacity to cause psychological or physical harm to another person. However, antisocial behavior is broader than aggression. For example, breaking the rules of the game or faking an injury are behaviors intended to disadvantage the opponent, but they do not involve physical or psychological harm. Thus, these behaviors can be classified as antisocial but not aggressive. In contrast, verbally abusing or physically intimidating another player can harm the player; thus, they are both antisocial and aggressive. The main difference between antisocial and aggressive behaviors is that the term antisocial refers to a broader class of acts, some of which can be classified as aggressive.
Prosocial and antisocial behaviors typically have positive and negative consequences, respectively, for others. Thus, helping an injured player should alleviate his or her distress, and kicking a player should cause him or her to experience pain. However, if the player does not feel any pain (e.g., because he or she is distracted or has taken analgesic medication), the behaviors will not have the expected consequences. Similarly, encouraging a teammate may not benefit the athlete who does not appreciate such encouragement; verbally abusing a player may not cause psychological harm to the individual who ignores the abuse; and cheating may not negatively affect others if the offender is caught and the situation is rectified. Thus, prosocial and antisocial behaviors have the potential to affect others.
Many studies have examined prosocial and antisocial behaviors in sport. A consistent finding in these studies is that these behaviors are either inversely associated or unrelated to each other. When they are inversely associated, the correlation between them is small or medium. This means that they are relatively independent. Knowing that someone has acted prosocially toward another player does not tell us much about his or her antisocial behavior. Thus, it is important to examine both types of behavior.
Prosocial and antisocial behaviors in sport have been measured using questionnaires and behavioral observation. Questionnaires consist of several items referring to specific behaviors (e.g., helping an opponent off the floor, congratulating a teammate, physically intimidating an opponent, verbally abusing a teammate). Participants are asked to indicate how often they engaged in these behaviors in a specified period of time. Responses to items are averaged to form separate scores for prosocial and antisocial behaviors. Behavioral observation involves videotaping games and coding behavior to predetermined categories based on operational definitions. For example, helping a player off the floor is operationally defined as pulling a player off the floor, and every time this behavior is observed, a frequency is recorded in the respective category. Frequencies for prosocial and antisocial behavior are computed separately to provide a total score for each behavior type. Studies using these two methods have identified several antecedents of moral behavior, which are discussed next.
A number of individual difference and social environmental factors have been associated with prosocial and antisocial behaviors. Maria Kavussanu has provided a comprehensive overview of these variables. Three of the main antecedents identified in past research are goal orientation, moral disengagement, and motivational climate. Goal orientation refers to the subjective criteria of success people use in achievement contexts such as sport. Two major goal orientations operate in sport: task and ego orientation. Athletes high in task orientation feel successful when they try hard, do their best, improve their performance, and master new skills. These players are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior while playing sport. In contrast, players high in ego orientation feel successful only when they do better than others; they are preoccupied with winning and showing that they are the best. These players are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior and think that it is appropriate to cheat and injure other players.
The second variable, moral disengagement, refers to a set of cognitive mechanisms that people use to justify their antisocial behavior. Through these justifications, athletes manage to engage in antisocial behavior without experiencing negative feelings, such as guilt, that normally controls this behavior. For example, players may displace responsibility for their actions to their coach, blame their victim for their own behavior, claim that they cheated to help their team, or downplay the consequences of their actions for others. Moral disengagement is associated with higher frequency of antisocial behavior and lower frequency of prosocial behavior.
Finally, the motivational climate of the team refers to the criteria of success that are dominant in the social environment and is created by parents, teachers, and coaches. Through the feedback they provide, the rewards they give, and, in general, the way they interact with the players, coaches make clear what are the criteria of success in that achievement context. For instance, when coaches provide feedback about how good a player is relative to others and reward only the best players, they create a performance motivational climate sending a clear message to athletes that only high ability matters. Players who perceive a performance climatein their team are more likely to display antisocial behavior. In contrast, a mastery climate is one that focuses on individual player improvement, rewards effort and personal progress, and has been associated with prosocial behavior.
In conclusion, moral behavior is a term used to refer to behaviors that are included in the moral domain and it is often used to refer collectively to prosocial and antisocial behaviors. These behaviors are morally relevant because they can have consequences for others. Both dispositional and situational factors are associated with prosocial and antisocial behaviors in sport. Individual difference variables such as goal orientation and moral disengagement as well as social environmental factors such as the motivational climate of the team are important determinants of prosocial and antisocial behaviors. By focusing on personal progress, rewarding effort and improvement, and avoiding explicit social comparison, we could promote prosocial and deter antisocial behavior from the sport context.
- Bredemeier, B. J. L., & Shields, D. L. (1998). Moral assessment in sport psychology. In J. L. Duda (Ed.), Advances in sport and exercise psychology measurement (pp. 257–276). Morgantown, WV: FIT Press.
- Kavussanu, M. (2012). Moral behavior in sport. In S.Murphy (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of sport and performance psychology (pp. 364–383). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Kavussanu, M., & Boardley, I. D. (2009). The prosocial and antisocial behavior in sport scale. Journal of Sport& Exercise Psychology, 31, 97–117.
- Kavussanu, M., & Boardley, I. D. (2012). Moralbehavior. In G. Tenenbaum, R. C. Eklund, & A. Kamata (Eds.), Handbook of measurement in sport and exercise psychology (pp. 443–454). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.