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Is Fandom worth it?

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  • Is Fandom worth it?

    From The Atlantic, 1 April, 2018

    There's a lot of losing in sports. Only one team can win at a time, and only one champion escapes the season without tears. But that doesn't stop Americans from spending nearly $56 billion a year on sporting events, while dropping many billions more on jerseys, cable packages, buffalo wings--to say nothing of the substantial emotional costs incurred. (Having logged many fan-hours on behalf of the pre-success Cubs and post-success Arsenal FC, I've paid my fair share.) Is fandom worth it?

    At first glance, the evidence isn't encouraging. Following a loss, fans are more likely than usual to eat unhealthy food, [1] be unproductive at work, [2] and--in the case of the Super Bowl--die from heart disease. [3] What about fans of the winning team? Well, their testosterone levels tend to increase, [4] which may account for why triumphant fans are more likely than other fans to suffer a postgame traffic fatality if the score was close. [5]

    Rival fans' treatment of one another is hardly more reassuring. A recent neuroimaging study found that fans experienced greater pleasure when watching a rival team fail, as opposed to non-rivals. The same subjects were significantly more willing to heckle, threaten, or hit rival fans. [6] This ill will extends even to the health and welfare of opposing players. Fans in another study reported feeling schadenfreude when reading about the injury of a rival team's player, and gluckschmerz (sadness at others' good fortune) when later reading about the player's unexpectedly speedy recovery. [7]

    Yet a substantial volume of research shows that being a fan can also have positive effects. It can ward off depression and alienation and build a sense of belonging and self-worth--provided the object of one's devotion is a local team. [8] Much of this is due to social bonds among fans, but not all--sports worship also provides individual fans with a number of strategies for navigating life's emotional challenges. A landmark 1976 study described fans' tendency to embrace a winning team as "basking in reflected glory," or birging. [9] Researchers found that after a win, fans were more likely than usual to wear apparel connected to the winning team, and to claim credit for the team's success via pronoun--describing the team as "we" instead of "they"--in conversation. This was especially pronounced in fans whose self-esteem had been deliberately lowered by the researchers through criticism. (Who knew we sports fans could be such sensitive souls?)

    Subsequent research has extended the birging model, identifying related self-help strategies such as "basking in reflected failure" (birfing), "cutting off reflected success" (corsing), [10] and the especially ingenious "cutting off future failure" (coffing). [11]

    Amid all the birging and schadenfreude and gluckschmerz, being a fan seems more than anything else to be a matter of managing responses to things one can't control. Sports fans are inclined to respond to reminders of mortality with optimism, [12] and to remember victories much more clearly than defeats. [13] There are surely worse ways to live.

    The Studies:

    [1] Cornil and Chandon, "From Fan to Fat?" (Psychological Science, Oct. 2013)

    [2] Gkorezis et al., "Linking Football Team Performance to Fans' Work Engagement and Job Performance" (Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Dec. 2016)

    [3] Schwartz et al., "Super Bowl Outcome's Association With Cardiovascular Death" (Clinical Research in Cardiology, Nov. 2013)

    [4] Bernhardt et al., "Testosterone Changes During Vicarious Experiences of Winning and Losing Among Fans at Sporting Events" (Physiology & Behavior, Aug. 1998)

    [5] Wood et al., "The Bad Thing About Good Games" (Journal of Consumer Research, Dec. 2011)

    [6] Cikara et al., "Us Versus Them" (Psychological Science, March 2011)

    [7] Hoogland et al., "The Joy of Pain and the Pain of Joy" (Motivation and Emotion, April 2015)

    [8] Wann, "Examining the Potential Causal Relationship Between Sport Team Identification and Psychological Well-Being" (Journal of Sport Behavior, March 2006)

    [9] Cialdini et al., "Basking in Reflected Glory" (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Sept. 1976)

    [10] Campbell et al., "Beyond BIRGing and CORFing" (Sport Marketing Quarterly, Sept. 2004)

    [11] Wann et al., "Basking in Reflected Glory, Cutting Off Reflected Failure, and Cutting Off Future Failure" (Social Behavior and Personality, Nov. 1995)

    [12] Dechesne et al., "Terror Management and the Vicissitudes of Sports Fan Affiliation" (European Journal of Social Psychology, Nov. 2000)

    [13] Breslin and Safer, "Effects of Event Valence on Long-Term Memory for Two Baseball Championship Games" (Psychological Science, Nov. 2011)

  • #2
    Hey, at least AFC West rivals don't have to worry about getting a case of the Chargers-related gluckschmerz's.