Psychology of a Sports Fan


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It isn't just a game. In 2006, NPR ran a piece on the psychology of a die-hard sports fan. Though the piece was done six years ago, its relevance seems to increase daily. I've always tried to articulate to people why a Stanley Cup moved me to tears, why I get chills walking up a beer-soaked tunnel, and why every time leaves begin to change color, I picture an immortal figure with one finger in the air jogging back to his sideline. A figure that is enough proof in itself to lay the debate to rest; God most certainly does exist. So why do sports move people to such strong emotional feelings? 
Bobby Orr.jpg

Often, sports seem to polarize men and women. Society stereotypes (correctly) that men are the ones so invested in the outcome of a game. A study done by a Frostburg State Professor showed the testosterone levels increased in a male by nearly 20% after his team won a big game. In contrast, testosterone levels decreased when that same game was lost. He concluded that part of the reason men find sport so attractive is that the "high" received upon victory is comparable to that of a gamblers', a natural bodily high that is addictive. But unlike the gambler's high, another study shows that some fans almost enjoy losing.

Another study showed the apparent idea of the masochist side of fanhood. "A large part of shared fan experiences, is suffering through years, sometimes decades, without tasting victory. It's really painful when you invest in a team that's ultimately a loser." The study goes on to say that in a fan's mind, losing proves loyalty, no matter the pain.

 And with this, comes the sociology side of fanhood. In Darwinian terms, sports fans identify with certain teams to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The study points to early in human history, people joining "tribes" to feel a connection to others holding similar interests (though early on the only interest they had in common was hunger). In 2012, that hunger has grown even more insatiable and the only thing to satisfy that appetite is a Championship. 







5 Comments

I found this article interesting, as I have always had a very low interest in sports, while my brother (a sports journalist) obviously has a large interest, and my Dad has always been a big sports watcher as well.

I did a little more research, and USA Today actually put out an article last year talking about how studies show it is possible to be addicted to watching sports, and a sports obsession can be detrimental to relationships.

When someone is emotionally involved, they can become extremely upset when there team loses, and therefore hurting relationships in their life as well as their quality of life.

(link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2011-09-19/Are-sports-obsessions-damaging-your-relationships/50463854/1)

After reading your blog and Alyssa's comment, I couldn't help but to relate it to my own family. I am not a huge sports fan but my dad, who was a goalie in the NHL, and my brother who also plays hockey are obviously in love with the game. When you talked about how mens testosterone increased by nearly 20% after a big game. I find this interesting because now that I think back with my experiences with my dad, I remember him being in a great mood and wanting to work harder after he won a game. Also, hockey, the sport my dad and brother love more than anything, brings emotional feelings to them. If they lose or are disappointed, then you can see it in their moods and how they interact with different people. Ultimately, i think everyones passion is what effects them the most emotionally.

After reading your blog and Alyssa's comment, I couldn't help but to relate it to my own family. I am not a huge sports fan but my dad, who was a goalie in the NHL, and my brother who also plays hockey are obviously in love with the game. When you talked about how mens testosterone increased by nearly 20% after a big game. I find this interesting because now that I think back with my experiences with my dad, I remember him being in a great mood and wanting to work harder after he won a game. Also, hockey, the sport my dad and brother love more than anything, brings emotional feelings to them. If they lose or are disappointed, then you can see it in their moods and how they interact with different people. Ultimately, i think everyones passion is what effects them the most emotionally.

Great discussion guys! Jeff, might I suggest that you incorporate those "source" links into the actual blog entry before the grading period? Try making them live links instead of listing them at the end.

You guys should definitely check out Martin Lindstrom's book “Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why we Buy”. The book is based around a new form of marketing known as neuro-marketing. Scientists and marketers are looking at brain patterns in fMRI scan and such to see what determines our buying decisions. Okay but now science.
In his book, Lindstrom references a scientific study comparing respondence to sports icons and sporting paraphernalia, compared to that of religious imagery. Exposure to sports images activated the part of the brain associated with our sense of reward (the middle inferior orbitofrontal cortex). This is exactly what all you guys (Jeffrey, Alyssa, and Courtney) have been talking about regarding the ups and downs of following a sports team.
It turns out that beyond emotions, our brain feels for the loss and wins of our favorite teams too.

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