Do male and female soccer players differ in helping? A study on prosocial behavior among young players

Paul A.M. Van Lange*, Zoi Manesi, Robert W.J. Meershoek, Mingliang Yuan, Mengchen Dong, Niels J. Van Doesum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Acting prosocially can be quite challenging in one of the most salient intergroup contexts in contemporary society: Soccer. When winning is the ultimate goal, balancing self-interest with helping a fellow player in distress can be a tough decision; yet it happens. To date, we know little about what motivates soccer players to offer such help in the heat of the game. We propose that sex and what is at stake will matter in such prosocial dilemma situations. A pilot study (N = 107) indicated that female players may be more likely to help than male players, but this difference was only observed when the players are close to scoring position rather than far away from the goal (midfield). The main study (N = 366) finds that young soccer players show elevated inclinations to help in low-stakes situations, for example when their team is winning or when the outcome of the game seems pretty much decided. Contrariwise, helping intentions decline in high-stakes situations, for example when one’s own team is losing, when one is close to a scoring position in the offense (rather than at the midfield), or when the outcome of the game is still uncertain. Furthermore, female players show somewhat greater inclinations to help than their male counterparts. The current data point at some differences for male and female soccer players, albeit small in effect size. In contrast, we conclude that especially quick cost-benefit judgments regarding the stakes can play a major role in decisions to help or not to help another player on the soccer field.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0209168
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2018


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