Psychologists Tackle Fandom

October 09, 2007 08:50 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing, and on them ride the hopes and expectations of hundreds of thousands of fans; but what is it about human psychology that compels the sports devotee to cheer and jeer with the team?

30-Second Summary

Approximately 75 percent of people in the United States consider themselves to be at least “moderate sports fans.”

That makes sports fandom the most popular voluntary activity in the country. But what is it about being a sports fan that draws so many people?

Daniel Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University in Kentucky, says the answer lies in an instinctual need to be part of a group.

“Sports fandom is really a tribal thing” writes Wann, “We've known for decades that social support—our tribal networks—is largely responsible for keeping people mentally sound.”

But a "sense of community" doesn’t wholly describe the link some people feel with their favorite team. A study conducted by James Dabbs, a psychologist at Georgia State University, found that ardent fans actually experience the same hormonal ebbs and surges as do athletes during the game.

A different study by Edward Hirt, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, showed that the self-esteem of die-hard supporters mimics their team’s performance.

Everyone shares the psychological mechanisms that drive fan behavior. And whether one is interested in sports or not, its influence can reach far beyond the stadium, and into the political arena.  

However, whether this sort of intense identification is good or bad for an individual’s health, or for society, is still up for debate.

Headline Links: Fan psychology and the health effects of die-hard fandom

Is being a die-hard fan healthy?

Background: Sports fans and group psychology and the die-hard fans of Boston and Chicago

The die-hard fans of Boston and Chicago

Historical Context: The primitive origins of fan psychology

Related Topics: Sports and politics and how men and women watch sports differently

How men and women watch sports differently

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