Masters 2018: Studies May Show Why Patrick Reed Is So Unlikeable

A sense of righteousness fuels our hatred of "villains."

On Sunday, 27-year-old Patrick Reed won the Masters Tournament, but he didn’t receive the fanfare one might expect from a professional golf champion. When Reed reached the 18th hole to seal the deal, the cheering grew silent. As golf’s “most hated man,” Reed sticks out like a sore thumb in a sports community that prides itself on polite decorum, creating uncomfortable cognitive dissonance for everyone watching. How can it be that the “villain” won?

Reed’s been publicly disliked by fans and players since 2015, when a reputation for literal stealing and cheating that started in his college days became public. His overconfidence as a younger player labeled him as “brash and alienating,” and after his Masters win, the Los Angeles Times still described him as disliked and unloved. “If you were a golf fan, you were probably rooting against Reed the entire time,” asserted USA Today sports journalist Trysta Krick on Sunday. “The whole golf world was aggressively rooting against him.” The reason people can’t get behind him, some scientists argue, is that his behavior is at odds with what people believe is morally right.

One of the foremost scholars on “assholes,” University of California, Irvine philosophy professor Aaron James, Ph.D., explains in his book Assholes: A Theory that encountering an asshole causes “great difficulty and personal strain” because it’s difficult to accept a person breaking social rules and continuing onward like they don’t matter. “This explains why the asshole is so bothersome, by revealing the great importance we attach to recognition in unexpected areas of our lives,” James writes. If a person sees Reed as an asshole, then watches his victory, it’s seen as an intrusion of what they feel is morally right.

In The Asshole Survivor Guide, Robert Sutton, Ph.D., a Stanford University psychology professor, follows up on James’s ideas. In a 2017 interview with Vox, he explained that “assholes have a corrosive effect on the people around them,” and that close proximity to that sort of person can make people “more depressed, more anxious, and less healthy.”

Counterintuitively, that sort of behavior doesn’t spell disaster for the “asshole” in question. Reed angered golf players and fans when he prematurely declared himself one of the “top five players in the world,” but now he’s ranked 11th in the world, and his confidence is less bogus. In fact, his brashness might have helped him: Studies show that overconfidence convinces others that you deserve it, and that support, in turn, transforms into earned confidence.

Other studies show that violating social norms “fuels perceptions of power,” and that the resulting sense of power can directly influence a person’s success. No one can deny that Reed, whether he’s truly an asshole or not, has worked hard to get where he is, which can in part explain his victories — whether fans can accept it or not.

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