Well, This Is Weird: Study Says NHLers Wearing Black Sweaters Are More Aggressive

(Icon SMI)

A new research paper from the Social Psychological & Personality Science arm of SAGE Publications suggests that hockey players receive more penalties when wearing black sweaters:

To examine the color–aggression link, the authors analyzed the last 25 seasons of NHL penalty-minute data (649 seasons from 30 teams collapsed across 52,098 games). When teams wore black jerseys, they were penalized more than when they did not (d = 1.19; Study 1). When teams switched to wearing colored jerseys at home games, they were penalized more than when they wore white jerseys at home games (d = 0.83; Study 2). Collectively, these quasi-experimental findings suggest that black jerseys are associated with more aggression and that white jerseys are associated with less. The authors discuss possible causes for these color-aggression effects.

I can’t immediately recall (beyond the San Jose Sharks) which teams wear dominantly black uniforms at home or as thirds. But if my memories of the 2005 and 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals serve me correctly, the Nashville Predators had a tough time with the rough-and-tumble style of the Sharks, even when the Good Guys’ lineup boasted players like Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg.

Of course, this — like any other bit of social science research — should be taken with a grain of salt. Correlation does not mean causation, and in the case of the post-lockout Predators, they have always been a small, fast team running up against larger bodies. Still, the whole thing is worth your time — if you want to cough up $25.00.

Stick tap: Christopher Shea


How could I forget the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Cooke?

Also, the Boston Bruins wear black at home — they spent the sixth least amount of time on the penalty kill during the 2010-2011 season, while the Tampa Bay Lightning spent the sixth most. The Vancouver Canucks topped the list, but they haven’t worn black sweaters since the late 1990s. Go figure.

Clearly I have a Western Conference bias!

Update 2

Maybe I should call it a Central Division bias — as commenter “Dean” notes below, “4/5 teams in the Pacific wear black jerseys at home (Dallas, LA, Anaheim, San Jose). Elsewhere in the west, Chicago has worn black as a 3rd jersey. In the east, you have Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Philly, Ottawa, and Carolina that wear black as a home or 3rd jersey.” Thanks for reading, Dean.

George Scoville
In his day job, George is a political consultant in Washington, DC. He grew up in the south, but has lived all over the country. He bleeds gold and blue for the Nashville Predators.


  1. Ben Morrisseau says:

    Your comments reveal your lack of knowledge in psychology and in statistics. It seems you wrote this without reading the article. No psychologist in their right mind would suggest correlation shows causality, in the abstract alone one clearly can see no claim of causality. It is stated that possible causes are discussed. Correlation research is often necessary for the very reason that it can help identify variables and lead to possible causes to be tested. While ones first reaction to this type of study may be: ‘their saying wearing black makes players more aggressive’, this is but only one potential variable that may or may not be contributing causality or a degree of causality and any psychologist would be quick to point out numerous potential variables that could be contributing positively and or negatively to such a correlation. For example what came to my mind almost immediately was what is the likelihood that colors affect the refs perception whether it be emotionally or plain awareness (perhaps players are more noticeable in darker colors). Emotional links to colors have been proven so this would not be a surprise to me, but it may infact have no effect. Dozens more could be listed. FYI I’m only an undergrad of psych but really I find your rant pointless, and rather more of an article about the obvious non causality nature of correlations. This is understandable, it is what happens as the result of misinterpretations. They have not claimed causality, this is clearly indicated in the abstract.

  2. Not to mention, San Jose didn’t wear black in the playoffs until last season…in 06 and 07 vs Nashville, they were Team Teal.

  3. You couldn’t think of a team other than the Sharks that wears black? Seriously? 4/5 teams in the Pacific wear black jerseys at home (Dallas, LA, Anaheim, San Jose). Elsewhere in the west, Chicago has worn black as a 3rd jersey. In the east, you have Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Philly, Ottawa, and Carolina that wear black as a home or 3rd jersey.

    • I spend my whole day thinking about politics and public policy — and I wrote this on the fly. So, no, I couldn’t immediately call into memory 30 sets of uniforms. But the point of the post isn’t my knowledge of hockey chromatics; rather, it’s about a peculiar piece of research that doesn’t appear to be reinforced by the statistics. Thanks for reading!

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