Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Science of Sports Fan Hatreds

Wall Street Journal:
The most intriguing study so far is an experiment that turned up neural proof of rivalry-related schadenfreude. The subjects in this paper, published in 2011 in the journal Psychological Science, were avid New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans who were asked to monitor baseball plays. They couldn’t lie about their feelings, though: Their brains were being scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines.
As expected, the die-hards were giddy when their teams made positive plays, which the researchers confirmed with activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain that correlates with pleasure. But the study was more revealing in people who felt greater aggression toward their rivals. The ventral striatum was engaged not only when their teams succeeded but also when their rivals failed—even against other teams. Cody Havard, a sports commerce professor at Memphis, calls this phenomenon “GORFing,” which is short for “glory out of reflected failure.”
Rivalries also bring out emotions that fans would rather suppress. One group of Kentucky psychologists studied schadenfreude (pleasure from others’ misfortune) and gluckschmerz (displeasure from others’ good fortune) by having the region’s rabid basketball fans read articles about injured Duke players. In this study, the most obsessed Kentucky fans felt schadenfreude when Duke’s players were severely hurt and gluckschmerz when they recovered or the injuries were actually mild, according to a paper published in the journal Motivation and Emotion this month.
“This is what is so fascinating about groups and sports fans in particular,” said Cikara, who led the study of baseball fans. “People get invested and worked up about events and games over which they have no control.”
In a sport as tribal as college football, though, fans play an outsize role in rivalries. The players in this weekend’s games were recently fans themselves. More than half of the rosters in this year’s Egg Bowl come from the state of Mississippi. Many of them grew up rooting for—or against—the schools they attend. Only some will have bulletproof bragging rights after Saturday.
Unfortunately, OSU will once again have bragging rights for the coming year.  There is definitely something to hatred in the sports fan experience.  Since my teams disappoint me every year, part of the fun is rooting for the teams I hate to lose.  And I hate a lot of teams.

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