The home advantage bias and attribution bias during football refereeing in the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League.
Andrew had always dreamt of a career in professional sports, unlike most people that want to work in sports he wasn’t interested in the fame and money. Andrew had spent the last 10 years working up to where he is. He had refereed for many small clubs and matches in the lower leagues. Now Andrew had been selected to referee for the top leagues. During his first big match Andrew was the top referee, he found himself in a stadium with 60,000 cheering and yelling fans. One of the star strikers went down after being tackled, he was holding is leg in pain. Andrew had a decision to make, was this a foul? He felt the pressure as the crowds began to yell. His decision would influence the outcome of the whole match.
Referees, judges and umpires all have an important role to play when it comes to sporting events. In a lot of sports the decisions of these officials can have a big impact on the position of a team in the league tables. The position of a team in the league table can furthermore affect the finances of a team, it’s investors and in some cases, it’s supporters.
One well known phenomena in sporting events is the home team advantage (Garicano et al., 2005; Rickman and Witt, 2008). The home team advantage phenomena states that a team playing in their home stadium will have an advantage over the opposing team simply because they are in their home stadium. The home team advantage has been shown in almost all sports. In football, researchers have investigated the home team advantage in the Italian Serie A league (Scoppa, 2008), the US leagues (Garicano et al., 2005), German Bundesliga (Kocher et al., 2004) and the English Premier League (Rickman and Witt, 2008). The decisions that referees make play a major role in the home team advantage.
In 2007 Perrersson-Lidbom and colleagues at the Universities of Stockholm and Munich had an opportunity to study the home team advantage in 24 matches after a serious of problems in the Italian Serie A and Serie B leagues. On February the 2nd 2007 supporters of the Italian football clubs Calcio Catania and Palermo Calcio clashed with each other and police in a violent and serious act of hooliganism. Filippo Raciti, a police officer in Catonia was killed during the rioting and around a hundred people were injured. Following the rioting police forced some of the clubs to play their home games without spectators. The researchers found that the presence of the supporters had an influence on the decisions of referees. When matches were played in front of spectators referees would punish away team players more harshly and home team players more lightly for the same offences (e.g., fouls). The home team advantage disappeared when there were no spectators. This reveals that although referees are expected to be unbiased factors such as cheering spectators can influence their decisions.
Another study of the home team advantage phenomena was conducted at the California Polytechnic State University by Richard Pollard in 2002. Between 1987 and 2001 there was a building boom for new sporting stadiums in United States. Pollard gathered data from 37 teams as they moved to new stadiums. If the home team advantage was in part to do with the stadium itself then the advantage should temporarily disappear when teams move stadium. Pollard found that 24% of the advantage of playing at a team’s home stadium is lost in the months after moving stadium. A large bit of the home team advantage remains which may be in part due to the referee’s decision-making.
One influence on a referee’s decision-making that many readers may find surprising are seemingly unimportant perceptual cues such at the height of a footballer (Quaquebeke and Giessner, 2010). Perceptual cues such as height can influence a referee’s decisions through a cognitive bias called the attribution bias. The attribution bias states that an attribute that does not implicitly seem important to the referee can influence a decision, when prompted the referee would not acknowledge that the attribute was an important factor in their decision. Quaquebeke and Giessner (2010) investigated what factors can influence the decision of a referee to punish a foul. They found that since height can sometimes be associated with the concepts of strength and aggression height can have an influence on decision-making. When an ambiguous tackle is seen by a referee the referee is more likely to attribute the wrongdoing to the taller of two players. Field data of decision-making by referees in seven UEFA Champion Leagues, three FIFA World Cups and the German Bundesliga league all support the attribution bias in refereeing.
So, although many of us are unlikely to find ourselves in the position of Andrew presiding over important decisions in a football match it is important to remember that we cannot always be unbiased in our decision-making. When Andrew finds himself deciding which of two players were in the wrong when going into a tackle he should bear-in-mind that factors that he is not aware of (e.g., height and crowd noise) play a role in his decision-making.