(1) Naive Realism within a Self-Officiated Sport

Ultimate, more commonly called frisbee, is a largely self-officiated sport. Fouls and other infractions are resolved through discussion between the player who calls the infraction and the player being accused of the infraction. If during the discussion, the accused player concedes that (s)he broke a rule, then the team that called the foul gets a predetermined advantage, such as possession of the disc at the spot of the foul. If there is instead a disagreement, referred to as “contesting the call”, the play essentially gets reset or otherwise settled in an approximately neutral way. The idea behind this is rooted in the “Spirit of the Game”, the concept that “places the responsibility for fair play on the player”. It is described in detail at the very top of the official rule book, but often these disputes are not so spirited.

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A significant percentage of call disputes, especially during intense games, result in longer-than-necessary discussion and, ultimately, a contested call. The reason behind this can be partially explained by naive realism and in-group bias. As an offensive player attempting to catch the disc while staying in bounds, it is very difficult to keep track of your feet while tracking the disc. However, the reciever will often be quick to call himself/herself inbounds, despite a defender with a far better perspective declaring the opposite. This is an example of naive realism, as the receiver obviously could not have seen the whole play, but labels the defender’s opinion as incorrect or biased. The attacker sees the defenders opinion as instantly invalid because it conflicts with their own perspective, which is internally percieved as objective fact. Of course, the defender is unconsciously subject to this as well.

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Another phenomenon that contributes is in-group bias, which causes the discussion to proliferate among the other players. In almost all cases, other witnesses will voice an opinion in allignment with their teammate because it benefits their team, their in-group, to do so. This phenomena can also be used to explain why the attacker, who could not have tracked of the field lines perfectly while making a catch, was quick to call the play in-bounds: it benefits themselves and other members of a common group.

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I have been slightly aware of these psychological principles at work since before I started playing frisbee freshman year. Plays and disputes like this are extremely common at the college level and oftentimes result in passionate debate. Having known vaguely about these concepts, I tend to approach the resolution of disputed calls I’m involved in more calmly. I do my best to keep the discussion to myself and the opposing player, ignoring input from teammates and other opponents. While it is somewhat possible to fend of in-group bias, it’s impossible to avoid naive realism. Even if I can convince myself that maybe I saw it wrong, I’ll doubt that the opponent is seriously considering my perspective and end up resorting to a hard stance. I’ve found, rather unscientifically, that this effort still usually results in a contested call, but at least my actions are more in line with the “Spirit of the Game”.

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