The Psychology of Sports Fans

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Updated: 7/02/2013 7:03 pm

Chattanooga-(WDEF) Almost everyone has cheered on a sports team at some point in their lives. But why do we feel the need to be vocal fans of athletic teams? UTC professors Bart Weathington and Brian O'Leary help explain that desire.

When it comes to studying the mind of sports fans, not much has been done, according to Bart Weathington, UC Foundation Professor of Psychology. "What's interesting is in the sports psychology literature, only about four percent of articles are dealing with fans. Most of it deals with coaches and athletes.

So why do people cheer for sports teams? "Sometimes I wonder," said Brian O'Leary, Department Head of UTC Psychology. "It's a sense of belonging. A need to feel like you belong to a group that you can identify with. That provides you with some sense of support." Said Weathington,"They provide us with a way to say this is who we are, and this is who I am. If you think evolutionary speaking, the way the human race developed, we had tribes. Our tribe was us versus them. And the them may be dangerous. And we are programmed that way, so that we say we want to affiliate with something that's larger than us."

Being a sports fan can affect the body. Said Weathington,"There have actually been studies that say when you are rooting for a team, and your team loses, your testosterone levels actually drop." Added O'Leary,"While it can induce stress when you are losing, it can certainly reduce stress when you have this event to focus on. And just kind of let everything else fade into the background."

Sometimes we're more than just fans of our favorite teams. Said O'Leary,"They are fans of the game too. There has to be something happening. We don't have a lot of Tiddly Winks fans." Said Weathington,"It's where you are at. Your personality is often situationally dependent. If I'm at a literally reading, when it's a really good literally reading, I'm going to do a polite clap. But when I'

'm at sports, everybody else is egging me on. I'm egging them on. It's acceptable for me to behave this way. It is that stress release. I can get out there, and just let myself go. As long as I'm not hurting somebody else, then I get a positive experience out of it."
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