A comparison of illusory superiority in elite and county UK soccer referees

Melissa Fothergill */** and Sandy Wolfson */***

(*) Northumbria University,Faculty of Health and Life Sciences,Newcastle upon Tyne,UK
(**) Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation
(***) Department of Psychology


Fothergill, M., Wolfson, S. (2015). A comparison of illusory superiority in elite and county UK soccer referees. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 46(5), 429-440. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2015.46.429


Soccer referees are regularly the object of intense scrutiny and criticism by players, coaches, fans and the media. The extent to which they characterise themselves positively despite negative feedback was examined in a study where elite (N=11) and county (N=183) soccer referees compared themselves with other referees officiating at their level. Participants completed a questionnaire containing items pertaining to their positive and negative characteristics. Both elite and county referees, irrespective of their level, regarded themselves as superior to other referees. Compared with county referees, elite referees were particularly likely to rate themselves favourably on negative characteristics and susceptibility to influence, but not on positive qualities. These results provide a novel insight into referees’ perceptions of themselves and their fellow referees and suggest that self-aggrandizement may be a functional cognitive illusion that can help maintain confidence and resilience in the face of threats to their expertise.

Keywords: Cognitive illusions Referees, Self-aggrandizement, Soccer