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But Paul Bernhardt, an aspiring young behavioral scientist at Georgia State University, was determined. The year was Yes, sports rivalries can have names; COFH is historically significant enough to have a 5,plus word entry in Wikipedia with 50 citations.
But there was a hypothesis floating around among social psychologists at the time that fans ride a similar hormonal high.
The game was extremely close, with UGA squeaking out a win at the buzzer. In the post-game chaos only eight fans, four Dawgs and four Jackets, returned their bottles—but the results were compelling.
Testosterone levels typically peak shortly after waking each day, then drop about 35 percent by bedtime. When he got back to the lab Bernhardt discovered that the testosterone levels of the four jubilant winners were 20 percent higher as they exited into the late-night melee outside the Omni than when they entered.
Players are known to experience roughly the same increase. The Georgia Tech fans, meanwhile, had a 20 percent drop, though Bernhardt places less importance on that finding, as testosterone levels typically decline at that hour anyway.
Soon after, he and his colleagues carried out another test with a larger, more statistically significant pool of subjects: 26 soccer fans watching a Brazil-Italy World Cup game in Atlanta, half at a Brazilian sports bar and half at an Italian bar.
Again, a 20 percent increase in testosterone was observed among fans of the winning team, the Brazilians along with a corresponding 20 percent drop for the Italians. It is about a sense of status, of seizing the moment. Similar studies since then have confirmed this relationship, while others suggest that the entire panoply of neurochemicals associated with athleticism, from dopamine to adrenaline to oxytocin, are triggered to a similar degree in both the players and fans during a game.
Bernhardt may have opened the door on an important physiological dimension of fan behavior, but a broad conceptual framework explaining the human compulsion to watch other people play games—a condition that affects approximately 60 percent of Americans—was already coming into focus.
At schools where the team won, the percentage of students wearing team colors and apparel was far greater than at the losing schools.
But what of the losers?
It turns out they have clever strategies for feeling good, too. Attention is, by definition, limited. When talking to someone at Wann and his colleagues have carried out more than 20 studies in which diverse groups of sports fans, including high school students, college students, senior citizens, Australians, female fans, hockey fans, NASCAR fans, and others, were evaluated in regards to various measures by which psychologists gauge well-being—such as a sense of self-worth, frequency of positive emotions, feeling connected with others, belief in the trustworthiness of others, sense of vigor and energy, and so on.
In virtually every single study, the degree of fan identification—that is, how devoted and enthusiastic a fan is—shows a positive statistical correlation with one or more of these factors.
Sports are a potentially constructive outlet for the tribalist tendencies of modern humans.
In all cases there was a causal connection between fandom and well-being, but sometimes the link was indirect. Similar phenomenon can be observed in other instances of strong identification with a group, whether a gang or a church congregation, though few cultural institutions today have as many die-hard adherents.
In order to really reap the well-being benefits of fan identification, it needs to be a central part of your overall social identity. His most recent study, which is pending publication, found that highly identified sports fans have an above average sense of meaning in life.
You might not even know their names, but you feel as though you are unified with so many other people in the community.
Mina Cikara, director of the Harvard Intergroup Neuroscience Lab, says that while ingroup-outgroup dynamics stemming from this infallible aspect of human nature may lie at the roots of racism, religious intolerance, and war, she sees sports as a potentially constructive outlet for the tribalist tendencies of modern humans—we get much of the pleasure with little of the harm.
Upon witnessing their favored team score or strike out an opposing player, a flurry of activity is seen in the ventral striatum, a region of the brain associated with reward-based decision-making, as well as addiction.
The effect was observed not just with clips where the Red Sox and Yankees played against each other, but also in another set of clips where each team faced off against the Orioles.
Brian J. Barth is a Toronto-based writer focused on culture, science, and the environment. References 1.
Jones, J. As industry grows, percentage of U. Get the Nautilus newsletter The newest and most popular articles delivered right to your inbox!