Scientists reveal that shorter NBA referees give more personal fouls

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Posted June 9, 2014

It is often claimed that men of short stature tend to be severe. A recent study, conducted by Paul Gift and Ryan M. Rodenberg, provides evidence that the so called Napoleon Complex might be manifest in the decisions of NBA referees. American scientists discovered that shorter arbiters assign more personal fouls than their taller colleagues. They claim that these results can have significant implications for the sports industry.

Picture: Wizards VS. Heat 03⁄30⁄11. Author: Keith Allison Year: 2011. Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Picture: Wizards VS. Heat 03⁄30⁄11. Author: Keith Allison. Year: 2011. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Biologists and social scientists think that shorter males are prone to a special form of a height–bias. More precisely, they negatively evaluate those who are higher and are aggressive towards them. “If a Napoleon Complex exists, we posit that it could be found in NBA basketball refereeing, an environment with near-instantaneous decision making and no time for reflective contemplation by the on-court officials,” the researchers conjecture.

They investigated, whether referee crews with smaller average–height will punish players more often. In addition, Gift and Rodenberg explored, whether behavior of the arbiters depends on the height of the players. In order to tackle this intriguing questions scientists analyzed a large archive of basketball games. “Our data set includes all regular season games played over four full NBA seasons: 2008-2009 through 2011-2012. It contains information on 4,463 games and 90,389 player-games,” the scholars say.

The study reveals that shorter NBA referees act as if they had Napoleon Complex. They give considerably more fouls than those who are taller. However, the researchers do not think that such cognitive bias has significant influence on the game results, as it has direct impact on the number of the free throws only. In addition, no specific bias towards higher players was observed. This means, that teams are treated in the same manner, irrespective of their average height.

Nevertheless, Gift and Rodenberg are sure that their study sheds light on important questions. “This research is important to sports industry operations, as it touches upon credibility and integrity issues that are often the focus of the media, the recent sports gambling litigation in New Jersey, and the efficiency of betting markets. Bias by workplace evaluators, even bias of the implicit nature evidenced here, can cause problematic perceptions and important integrity issues central to the evaluation of firm personnel,” they write.

Article: Paul Gift and Ryan M. Rodenberg, 2014, Napoleon Complex: Height Bias Among National Basketball Association Referees, Journal of Sports Economics 15 (3), source link.

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