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Starting with psychology
Starting with psychology

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6.4 Zidane's background

Zidane was born in 1972 in the French city of Marseille to parents who came originally from Algeria. He is the youngest of five children and the family lived in a working class district of the city called La Castellane. Zidane began his football career early and was playing in the junior league at the age of 14 and in First Division football at the age of 17. He developed into a world class player and was three times named World Player of the Year. The 2006 World Cup Final was to be his last game of professional football before he retired.

The head-butting incident occurred in the 110th minute of the game, when the game had gone into extra time, and it resulted in Zidane being sent off. He was not able to take part in the penalty shootout which Italy won 5–3. This was a very sad end to an outstanding football career for Zidane, his fans and for France.

What followed was hours of debate and discussion in the media and at social gatherings when people tried to answer the question of why? What made this footballer react so aggressively and some would say stupidly in such an important match and at such an important time in the match? Zidane stated he had been provoked by Materazzi who had made insulting remarks about his mother and sister. Materazzi insisted that he had made some trivial remarks and had said nothing about Zidane's mother.

Even if you're not very interested in football, perhaps you have some views about why footballers might behave in this way. In the next activity, you are given the opportunity to hear different people's views. You will explore the different explanations people put forward about what made Zidane behave that way.

Activity 13: Why did he do it?

Timing: 0 hours 20 minutes

Before watching the video below make some notes listing all the different explanations for why Zidane head-butted Materazzi you can think of. It might help if you think about the different influences you have read about in this book. Can you suggest any factors related to Zidane's biological state, his thinking, relationships and social identities that could help to explain what happen?

Once you have completed your notes watch ‘Everyday explanations’, which shows some members of the general public offering their views on what happened. Compare your explanations with theirs.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video clip 1: Every day explanations
Video clip 1: Every day explanations
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Did you find that your explanations covered more sources of influence than those of the general public? It is worth thinking about the way you would normally regard the behaviour of a footballer who ‘hits out’. Have you been inclined to explaining such behaviour in simple or straightforward terms, such as saying, ‘it all comes down to…’? Has doing this reading helped you see some other possibilities?

Next you'll examine the explanations proposed by three psychologists who are focusing on three different types of influence.

Activity 14: Explanations from three psychologists

Timing: 0 hours 30 minutes

Now listen to ‘Psychological explanations’. This shows three psychologists, one biological, one cognitive and one social giving their interpretation of what happened. Make notes of the key points of each explanation

Please note: the audio clips below are taken from the Y183 course DVD and so you will notice references to chapters in the course which are not represented here.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Psychological explanations
Psychological explanations
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Figure 14
Figure 14: Pat Spoors – Biological psychologist
Figure 15
Figure 15: Dr Peter Naish – Cognitive psychologist
Figure 16
Figure 16: Dr Jovan Byford – Social psychologist


The biological psychologist suggested that there may be a genetic predisposition for men to react to provocation with physical aggression more than a women would. The role of testosterone is not clear, although there is a link between this male sex hormone and aggression. However the stress engendered by the situation that Zidane was in would have caused a release of adrenalin and biological arousal which in turn would intensify any type of emotional response.

The cognitive psychologist highlighted the role of schemas and top-down processing in influencing the interpretation of the situation and the response to the situation. He also highlighted selective attention in that provocation might be unnoticed or ignored when attention is focused elsewhere. Interestingly the football schema may also have determined the type of response so that Zidane head-butted Materazzi rather than punched or hit him.

The social psychologist emphasised the role of social identities. He described a number of identities for Zidane – a man, a football player, a team member, a French person, a symbol of multiculturalism and a person with a working class background. It is interesting that Zidane himself tried to explain his behaviour by referring to the idea of having to be a ‘man’ (his gender identity) and his need to stand up to anyone who insulted his mother and sister. In addition in his North African culture a female relative is seen as being sacrosanct and dealing with insults would be a matter of ‘family honour’(cultural identity).

To attempt a complete explanation you could suggest a rush of chemicals in the body was precipitated by the stress of the wider social situation (including public and media pressures) which the footballer didn't deal with particularly well given his relationships with people involved, upbringing and culture. Most psychologists today would accept that any useful explanation, such as the one given for the Zidane head-butt, is going to describe an interaction of both internal and external influences.