Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril They Saw a Game: A Case Study
Hastorf and Cantril - in a paper called They Saw a Game: A Case Study (1954) - analyzed what proved to be selective
perception of a college football game contested between Dartmouth Indians and Princeton Tigers. The football game the
students saw had actually been played in 1951 - Princeton won. It was a rough game, with many penalties, and it had
aroused a furore of editorials in the campus newspapers and elsewhere.
The Princeton quarterback, an All-American, in this, his last game for his college, had had to leave the game in
the second quarter with a broken nose and a mild concussion. In the third quarter the Dartmouth
quarterback's leg was broken when he was tackled in the backfield.
One week after the game, Hastorf and Cantril had Dartmouth and Princeton psychology
students fill out a questionnaire, and the authors analyzed the answers of those who
had seen either the game or a movie of the game.
Question: "Which team do you feel started the rough play?"
Who started it? ~ Survey Responses
Percent Dartmouth Students
Percent Princeton Students
Princeton started it
Both started it
Dartmouth started it
The data in the above table demonstrates how the Dartmouth and Princeton students gave discrepant responses to the question "Who started it?"
Almost no one said that Princeton started the rough play; thirty-six per cent of the Dartmouth students and eighty-six per cent of the Princeton
students said that Dartmouth started it; and fifty-three per cent of the Dartmouth students and eleven per cent of the
Princeton students said that both started it.
Question: "Do you believe the game was clean and fairly
played or that it was unnecessarily rough and dirty?"
Clean and Fair? ~ Survey Responses
Percent Dartmouth Students
Percent Princeton Students
Clean & Fair
Rough & Fair
Rough & Dirty
The data in the above table again demonstrates how the Dartmouth and Princeton students gave differing responses, this time to the question of "Whether or not the game was
clean and fair?"
None of the Princeton said the game was clean and fair, in contrast to thirteen per cent of the Dartmouth students who did.
Ninety-three per cent of the Princeton students actually saw the game as having been "Rough & Dirty", eighty-one per cent of the Dartmouth students
saw the game as having been "Rough" but almost half of these saw that "Roughness" as having been "Fair".
When shown a film of
the game later, the Princeton students "saw" the Dartmouth team make over twice
as many rule infractions as were seen by Dartmouth students.
Hastorf and Cantril interpreted these results overall as indicating that, when encountering
a mix of occurrences as complex as a football game, we experience primarily those events that
fulfill a familiar pattern and have personal significance.
For these students, the selective perception and recall of what might seem to be "the same event" involved a very active
construction of differing realities. Our membership of any group often provides a frame and a filter through which
we view social events. This Dartmouth v Princeton game had a particular meaning for students from each school, and a
quite different meaning to people who felt no allegiance to either team. And even among those on the same side, the
game meant different things to the team members and their fans. This classic case study demonstrates the crucial role of
values in shaping perception.
Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril - They Saw a Game: A Case Study [Journal
of Abnormal and Social Psychology 1954] interpreted their experiment as evidence that "out of all
the occurrences going on in the environment, a person selects those that have some significance
for him from his own egocentric position in the total matrix", that the game "actually was many
different games" and that each version of the events
that transpired was just as "real" to a particular person as other versions were to other
people. In this study, the subjects' perceptions
were swayed by their motives. It shows how people sometimes see what they want to see.
Hastorf and Cantril conclude :: "In brief, the data here indicate that there is
no such 'thing' as a 'game' existing 'out there' in its own right which people merely
'observe.' The game 'exists' for a person and is experienced by him only insofar as
certain happenings have significances in terms of his purpose."
Social influence is most profound when it is least evident - when it shapes our most fundamental assumptions
and beliefs about the world without our realizing it. The reactions of the Princeton and Dartmouth fans were
certainly shaped and biased by their school allegiances, but were the fans aware of that influence? Probably not.
We would not expect anyone to be particularly aware of thinking, "I'd better interpret that tackle as vicious because
my friends will reject me if I don't." Social influences have surrounded us since infancy, and it is therefore no
surprise that we usually are unaware of their impact. Does the fish know it swims in water?
Away from the football field American Ivy League students of that era may perhaps be held to have largely
shared a common cultural background in terms of the "American" way of life. We may wonder about the difficulties that
States and Historic Communities experience in maintaining harmonious relations. What role might selective perception
be said to have in these serious matters? Could one state or community act "quite reasonably" in terms of its own
shared view of reality and yet seem, to other states or communities, to act "quite unreasonably"?
The impetus we need to become aware of the impact of such social influence may perhaps be held to take the form of
a shift in perspective. If we sometimes try to put ourselves into someone else's shoes we can perhaps see
situations more comprehensively and more justly.
It is widely known that Plato, pupil of and close friend to Socrates, accepted that Human
Beings have a " Tripartite Soul " where individual Human Psychology is composed of three aspects -
Wisdom-Rationality, Spirited-Will and Appetite-Desire.
What is less widely appreciated is that such major World Faiths as Christianity, Islam,
Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism see "Spirituality" as being relative to "Desire" and to "Wrath".