A few days ago I put up a post on Southerners, Civility, and Cultures of Honor, which pointed to research showing that, although men raised in the Southern United States are generally more polite than those raised in other parts of the country, they are more prone to respond with aggression when they believe that there has been some kind assault on their "honor." I reviewed a lab experiment from The University of Michigan showing that men from South were far more likely to turn aggressive than men from the North when they were bumped and called an "asshole."
This post prompted a dozen comments of all kinds, including at least one Southern man who agreed that it described his behavior. And it prompted one yesterday from Professor Thomas Timmerman of Tennessee Technological University. Timmerman just published a study of nearly 30,000 "hit by pitch" events during Major League Baseball Games (drawn from a sample of nearly 5 million at bats) that occurred between 1960 and 1992 and between 2000 and 2004. This research produced some fascinating findings, which are consistent with prior work on the culture of honor . As Professor Timmerman described it in his comments:
"Pitchers from the South are not more likely, in general, to hit batters; but they are more likely than non-southerners to hit the batter who follows a home-run hitter. They are also more likely to hit a homerun hitter the next time he comes up to bat. They are also more likely to hit batters in retaliation for a hit teammate. Interestingly, though, southerners are more likely to hit White batters in these situations, not African Americans."
In other words,white pitchers born in the South (about 30% of those in this sample) appeared more likely to hit batters on purpose in order to uphold their team's honor -- after one of two kinds of "affronts:" a home run or a teammate who was hit by a pitch thrown by the other team. I would also point out that hitting someone on purpose with a baseball (moving perhaps 90 miles an hour) clearly qualifies as an "asshole move" in my book as it is hurts like hell, and clearly is meant to intimidate the target. And it can be dangerous. Timmerman starts out the article with an incident in 1920 when a pitcher named Carl Mays killed a shortstop named Ray Chapman with a pitch. The quote that opens the article, attributed to Mays, is pretty interesting, as it indicates that intimidation, not injury, was Chapman's goal: "I threw it at him not to hurt him but just to make him think. It wasn't a beanball. It was a thought pitch."
I wrote Professor Timmerman to ask WHY he thinks that these findings occurred, and his answers are pretty interesting in light of the culture of honor, and I would add, in light of some of the arguments I've made about situations where acting like an asshole can help people win through intimidation. Professor Timmerman (pictured to the left) said:
Here's the way I interpret the three different situations I studied
1) A pitcher gives up a homerun - this threatens his social identity as a competent pitcher, so he hits the homerun hitter the next time he comes up. Southerners are more likely to do this than non-southerners, but mainly if the batter is white. To me this seems consistent with the culture of honor ideas that Southerners try to protect their honor and their social identities more so than non-southerners.
2) A pitcher gives up a homerun - the next batter is also at greater risk because of the identity threat and also because of the frustration. Again, Southerners are more likely to hit a batter in this situation.
3) A pitcher's teammate his hit by the opposing pitcher - failing to retaliate might insinuate that the pitcher is weak and unable to protect his teammates. Again, Southerners are more likely to do this, but mainly if the batter is white.
He also added some interesting ideas about the racial differences:
If I had to guess why Southerners are less likely to hit African Americans in these situations, I would offer these two guesses:
1) Growing up in the South might make Southerners hyper-sensitive about "appearing" racist. Hitting a batter in these situations is more likely to seem intentional, so maybe Southerners don't want to appear as if they are hitting African Americans on purpose.
2) Some early research on aggression shows that whites (in general) suppress aggression against African Americans out of fear (i.e., when they believe that African Americans can identify them and retaliate). Maybe Southerners are more afraid than non-southerners that African American batters will charge the mound if they get hit. This could happen if Southerners are more likely to learn stereotypes about African Americans.
Fascinating stuff, huh? I guess the upshot, as my colleague (and native Southerner) Steve Barley has told me before, "We are the nicest people on earth until you piss us off." Apparently that is an evidence-based statement.
There is also an interesting footnote to all this; Professor Timmerman reports that he became interested in studying aggression in baseball after reading a study called "Temper and Temperature on the Diamond," which showed that Major League Pitchers pitchers appear more likely to hit batters intentionally when it is hot outside. This study is part of the vast literature on the "heat and aggression hypothesis," which shows that -- when it comes to everything from horn honking to murder rates -- human beings are more prone to turn nasty when it is hot. So it isn't just a myth, a hot day does turn people into assholes. Or, as my colleague Jane Dutton once commented (I paraphrase, it was a long time ago) "I guess this means that if you are in a bad mood, you should stick your head in the freezer." I will dig up some of the research on heat and aggression, it is fascinating stuff.
To return to baseball, if you are interested in the implications of baseball for management and organizational life in general, check out Jeff Angus's blog and his great book Management by Baseball.
P.S. Professor Timmerman was kind enough to provide me with complete references for his study and and "Temper and Temperature on the Diamond."
Timmerman, T.A. (2007). "It was a thought pitch": Personal, situational, and target influences on hit-by-pitch events across time. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 876-884
Reifman, A.S., Larrick, R.P., & Fein, S. (1991). Temper and Temperature on the Diamond: The Heat-Aggression Relationship in Major League Baseball. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 580-585 (1991).