The Biology of the Sports Fan

Cardinals Fans

(from Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2013) Sports have always been a way for fans to sit back, relax and root their team to victory. However, recent studies show that watching big games can play a big impact on the mind and body of a fan. Sports studies for years have always focused on the players and their behavior. Recently, research has turned to examining what happens within the bodies and minds of fans. For even the most die-hard fans, it has been proven that winning is not everything and in some circumstances is not even the best outcome.

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, says, “The less certainty, the greater the suspense, and the greater the enjoyment.” Findings done at Ohio State University show that fans actually receive more pleasure from a close loss than a blowout win. This same study showed that even if fans are disappointed by the outcome, edge-of-the-seat endings make games more enjoyable.

In a study done By Colleen Bee, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, results show that fans literally live and die on how their team performs. For example, in 2009 the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl over the Arizona Cardinals. That same year, Pittsburgh doctors saw 25% fewer heart-related deaths over the next eight days. Another incident occurred after the 2008 Super Bowl when the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots. After that Super Bowl, the number of heart-related deaths in Massachusetts raised 20% over the next eight days. Dr. Robert Kloner, a cardiology professor at the University of Southern California, says, “It’s not that people should stop watching sports.” He suggests, “That fans stay aware of emotional stress that can have a negative physical impact, and try not to get too worked up.”

Leander van der Meij, an assistant professor of psychology at VU University Amsterdam who studies the connection between hormones and behavior, says, “Sports matter so much because fandom is closely related to social status.” He adds, “When watching a match, your self-esteem is at stake and is threatened if you lose so you get stressed.” Studies in the past also show how sports can play a role in calorie consumption and obesity. Sports can be fun as a fan and at the same time very stressful. However one views his or her special team, the big games have proven they can play a huge role in their life.