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The science behind sports fandom

One of the things Indianapolis is most known for is our football team, the Indianapolis Colts. Our state is filled with some of the most dedicated sports fans and understandably so. The Colts are considered to be one of the most talented football teams in the NFL. Many of us just can't seem to get enough of our favorite team. It's easy to become completely engrossed in the pregame coverage, postgame coverage, and everything in between, and it's not uncommon for fans to go to great lengths to show support for their team. Although it may seem as though this type of fandom is just entertainment associated with the unpredictability of watching two teams compete, science has proven otherwise.

A lot more happens inside the bodies of sports fans than we may have ever imagined. Studies show that, during a game, sports fans actually experience the same hormonal and physiological changes that athletes experience (1). In fact, there was even an incident in which a Pittsburgh Steelers fan suffered a heart attack while observing a tense moment in a game against the Indianapolis Colts (2). Although this may seem like an extreme case, scientists were able to determine that, upon seeing photos of their favorite teams, sports fans' heart rate, brain waves, and perspiration indicated as much arousal as when shown erotic pictures or pictures of animal attacks (1).

The fate of a sports fan's team also affects them in many ways. For males, testosterone levels actually rise when their favorite team wins and falls when the team loses (1). Studies have also proven that, for both male and female fans, a team's success is directly related to their self-esteem (1). When a sports fan's favorite team loses, the individual also loses some confidence in their ability to accomplish tasks, such as getting a date or being successful at games (1).

This evidence may lead many of us to wonder why we continue to be fans of sports. There seem to be many drawbacks, especially when our team is defeated. However, scientists have proven that there are many benefits to being a sports fan as well. In general, sports fans have been found to have overall higher levels of self-esteem (1). Many also feel as though sports serve as an important outlet, allowing individuals to express their emotions freely and loudly, which can be a cathartic experience (1). Fans also benefit from the sense of belonging to a team and to other fans in the community, and this is believed to be a possible reason why sports fans suffer from fewer incidences of depression and alienation than those who have no interest in sports (1). Therefore, it is evident that fandom has many psychological benefits. So sports fans, even though we do not need it, now we have another reason to continue rooting for our favorite team.
 

References:

  1. Sports Psychology: It Isn't Just a Game:  Clues to AvidRooting
  2. Sports fans:  Watch at your own risk

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