Aggression in hockey players

The following is a sample Paper 3 that looks at a naturalistic observation. Below you will first find the stimulus piece, followed by the static questions.  A copy of the mock paper is included to give students as an in-class assessment.

Potential answers are included in the hidden boxes below.

Student copy

Stimulus piece

Gee and Sullivan (2006) wanted to see if there are any trends in aggressive behaviour during hockey tournaments.

Participants were 79 male varsity ice hockey players at the university. Coaches were approached and informed of the study. Once permission was granted, the teams were approached and asked for consent. The consent process occurred roughly three weeks before the tournament, in an attempt to minimize any social desirability biases. On game day, two cameras were placed on opposite sides of the rink. The cameras were placed at centre ice, in order to provide the most detailed picture of the entire playing surface. Camera operators were instructed to capture as many of the players as possible at any one time, while always maintaining a relatively clear picture (e.g., viewing the players’ numbers). Three games were observed.

The recordings of the competitions were analysed by two independent observers using an operationalized check-list. The “intent to harm” was the defining characteristic of aggressive behaviour. Fourteen behaviours were labelled as “aggression”, including cross-checking, fighting, charging, head-butting, kneeing, spearing, high sticking, and elbowing.

A total of 74 aggressive behaviours were observed during the three games. Of the 74 behaviours observed by the two independent researchers, only 14 received actual on-ice penalization. With respect to overall performance, winning, losing, and tied teams committed relatively equal numbers of aggressive acts. Also, there was no significant difference observed between players occupying different positions. Both offensive and defensive players committed relatively the same number of aggressive acts.


1a. Identify the method used and outline two characteristics of the method.

This is a naturalistic, overt, non-participant observation. Naturalistic observations have high ecological validity; the participants are observed carrying out normal behaviour without any manipulation of variables by the researcher. In an overt observation, there is no use of deception and because it is a non-participant observation, the researcher does not interfere with the behaviour of the participants.

1b. Describe the sampling method used in the study.

The researcher uses a sample of opportunity.  Hockey teams that exist at the university are asked to participate in the study.  An opportunity sample is a non-random sample in which the researcher uses a sample that already exists. In this case, the sample is easily obtained and the researchers would have had good familiarity with the characteristics of the sample. 

1c. Suggest an alternative or additional research method giving one reason for your choice.

A questionnaire could be given to hockey players to see what they believe sparks aggressive behaviour.  This would allow easy collection of data and would look more holistically at a hockey player's performance, rather than just three games.

2. Describe the ethical considerations that were applied in the study and explain if further ethical considerations could be applied.

Informed consent was obtained, not just from the players but from their coach as well.  They would have had their rights explained to them, including their right to withdraw from the study.  As the games were recorded, it is important that the players are aware of this as well as how the recording will be used.  It is important that the anonymity of the players is maintained; they should not be identified by name or by number. There was no deception in the study, but a debriefing must still be done.  This will allow the researchers to share their findings as well as give the participants one more chance to withdraw their data. Although aggression is shown in this study, it is a naturalistic observation.  So, there is no "undue" stress or harm as the stress that they experience is not more than they would in any competitive match.

3. To what extent could you generalize the findings of this study?

The sample is fairly large for a university, so it most likely that the results may be generalized to the population from which the sample was drawn. However, with only three games observed, the findings may be premature.  Although there were several teams observed, the limited number of matches means that it is difficult to generalize the findings. It is not clear to what extent the study could be transferred to other findings; the characteristics of the team would have to be well described and then the results of the study could be transferred to other hockey teams.  Characteristics that might affect the results are the reputation of the teams, the opposition (was it a long-term rivalry?) or the competition required to qualify for the team. In addition, these were male varsity teams.  We cannot generalize to female hockey teams.  We cannot generalize to professional hockey teams. It would also be difficult to generalize the aggression to other sports as the operationalization of the aggression is very specific to the sport.
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