One of the realities of boxing that sometimes cause widespread dispute is the occasional decision by judges that goes against the overwhelming opinion of fans, writers and spectators. Without naming specific fights that were “controversial” in this way, there may be a legitimate explanation for why this occurs from time to time.
Everything we do as humans is controlled by our brains. Our human brains are the command center that dictates all aspects of our lives from when we get hungry to what music we listen to to what we watch. That being said, that same human brain of ours is also key when we watch boxing.
A theory was started in the 1960’s and developed in the 1970’s about “left brain” vs. “right brain” behavior. Although both sides of the brain function together as one, there is actually a membrane called the corpus callosum that runs down the center and splits the brain into its two hemispheres, thus having a so called “left brain” and “right brain.”
Through a series of experiments and tests, it was found that the two sides of the brain were responsible for different aspects of our behavior and actions. The left side was found to function primarily as a more fact based, analytical, logical and mathematical organ. The right side of the brain however was found to control our emotions and feelings and was primarily aligned with our creative and intuitive side.
In fact, the leader of these studies, Dr. Robert Sperry, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1981 for his work on split brain research. This is clearly just an oversimplified summary of the complex nature of the brain because naturally the two sides of the human brain function together with literally billions of brain cells acting as transmitters as information flies across the brain at all times and is received from what we see and hear.
The point of the studies regarding the two sides of the brain is that at different times and for different reasons, one side becomes more dominant than the other. That’s where boxing and the perception of “controversial” decisions come into play. So time for another theory!
A boxing judge is trained to concentrate and focus for the entire three minutes of every round that he or she scores. The mindset and thought process of a boxing judge scoring a round is analogous to someone taking a written test. They switch into concentration mode. They switch into focus mode. They switch into serious mode. They do their best to block out everything around them and focus only on what’s in front of them. Scoring a round for a boxing judge equivalent to their SAT test: this is serious and important. In essence, they become “left brain dominant” during the time that they’re scoring rounds.
On the other hand, others who simply watch, enjoy or report on a boxing match are there for reasons other than to score each individual round as a trained boxing judge is. Attending or watching a boxing match for fans is a social event intended for the pure enjoyment of the sport or passion for a particular fighter. Sometimes they watch with others to discuss. Other times they watch alone to enjoy or critique. Sometimes food and alcohol are involved. Other times they’re not. The media attends boxing matches to report on the action and other aspects of the event. They are there to disseminate information and knowledge about the event to a mass audience. For both fans and the media, there is much more emotion invested in their purpose than for example, a boxing judge scoring the rounds of a fight. I would argue that they are “right brain dominant” while watching the boxing match.
Think of the difference between a jury and a courtroom audience. If you’ve ever sat on a jury, you know what I mean. Your thought process changes when you’re sitting on a jury and are given responsibility to decide the fate of the defendant. You switch into “left brain” mode because of the complexity and seriousness of your role. A courtroom audience on the other hand will typically be filled with family and friends of the two parties involved and therefore have much more invested in the decision. Sometimes their emotions even get the best of them with the occasional gasp, tears and other visceral responses. They are clearly in “right brain” mode during the court case.
This difference between the mindset of a boxing judge and the mindset of a spectator could help explain the difference of opinions when some boxing decisions as scored by the “left brain” judges differ from the popular opinions of the “right brain” spectators. The same event and the same circumstances are explained completely differently depending on the owner’s perspective. There is actually a scientific name given to this: the Rashomon Effect, where an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved. The effect is named after Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Academy Award winning film “Rashomon”, in which a murder is described in four different ways by four witnesses. We’ve all seen examples of the Rashomon Effect in several television sitcoms where different characters on the show describe the same situation completely different than the others. Each makes a plausible case for their view depending on their perspective.
One can argue that the Rashomon Effect also occurs in boxing from time to time where the same event (a boxing match) is explained in equally credible ways by the different parties who witnessed it (judges and spectators). In the case of a boxing judge, their left brain, being more logical and analytical during the event, scores the rounds of the fight in one way. Spectators on the other hand, whether they be fans or part of the media, see the same fight in a completely different way from the more emotional right brain perspective. As the Rashomon Effect goes, each side interprets events of the same situation in a completely different but reasonable way. Hence, the “controversies” that sometimes occur with boxing decisions. The bottom line is that if there is indeed a left brain and right brain dominance from time to time, the occurrence of “controversial” decisions where the judges score the fight one way and the public at large view the result differently, will occur on occasion, aka boxing’s “Rashomon Effect.”