The Sports Fan Identity

 

Everyone knows someone who’s an excessive sports fan, maybe it’s even you, and people who are sports fans can develop a “fan identity”. “Fan identity” is a very common phenomenon, as with any group identity, the “fan identity” is beneficial to the individual in that it may provide a sense of community, but it also changes how their social behaviour. Psychological research on fans has been almost entirely focused on sport fans, yet, any individual who is an enthusiastic and loyal admirer of an interest can be reasonably considered a ‘fan’ and can, therefore, have a fan identity. Saying that, however, I will be focusing on sports fans directly.

Within social psychology, there is a social identity theory, which is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership. Social identity theory suggests that different psychological and social behaviour results when people define themselves as a member of a group compared to when the self is defined as an individual.

Most sports fans perceive themselves as part of a group, even if they do not meet face to face with other members of this group. It’s an “imagined community” and has the effect in which fans rated their fan community higher on dimensions of belongingness, emotional connection, identification, shared values, influence, and overall sense of a community than they rated their neighbourhood when they were asked the same things (Obst, Zinkiewicz, and Smith, 2002).

Not only does being a sports fan increase you belonging and sense of community, it also increases your self-worth. Studies show that rabid sports fans have higher self-esteem and are less depressed, less alienated and less lonely (Wann, 2014). This returns to the whole “imagined community” aspect of being a sports fan, as these are a direct result of a strong community bond on a individual. According to a 2013 study published in Psychological Science, fans were found to eat healthier when their team won. More surprising finds, however, come from studies that have even linked reckless driving, heart attacks and domestic violence to the outcome of sporting events.This could be the result of testosterone levels which were found to increase about 20 per cent in fans of winning teams and decrease about 20 per cent in fans of losing teams (Paul Bernhardt, 1998).

Sports Networker
Read more http://www.sportsnetworker.com/2012/02/15/the-psychology-of-sports-fans-what-makes-them-so-crazy/

The reasoning behind why sports fans act in such a way based of of their teams good or ill fortune is linked back to social identity theory. “Fan identity” is a different kind of community and has different kinds of effects. As I stated earlier, individuals who are part of a “fan community” are more closely linked to that community than their own neighbourhood community. However, the wellbeing of this community (wether your team does good or bad) is completely out of the individuals hands, and they also have a very minuscule role in this community. So even though this community provides a sense of “well being” from the effects of the “imagined community”, it is not a real community. Being a sports fan allows you to feel deep emotional investment in something that has no actual real world consequences. Sports are never guaranteed to end happily. In fact for some fans, most games end in a highly unsatisfying way. As a fan, you will feel actual joy or actual pain in relation to events that really don’t affect your life at all. Unlike your neighbourhood community, the “imagined community” of spots fans doesn’t really have a “outlet” within that community for the emotions and behaviours it creates within it’s fans. There isn’t really any place to let out your anger after your team loses on a Sunday night and instead you must find another outlet for it.

In conclusion, I must say that researching this topic made me realize how broad it is, and how much potential research there is in “fan identity” for social cognition. “Fan identity” creates a “imagined community” with lots of benefits, but also can lead to emotional instability without proper outlets for the emotions that the sports can cause on their fans. This is why we can see such a wide range of varied behaviour among sports fans that are a direct cause of this “fan identity”.

Sports Networker
Read more http://www.sportsnetworker.com/2012/02/15/the-psychology-of-sports-fans-what-makes-them-so-crazy/

References:

  1. http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/08/28/study-link-found-between-losing-sports-teams-heavier-fans/
  2. http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/the-psychology-of-being-a-sports-fan/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255718615_Fanship_and_fandom_Comparisons_between_sport_fans_and_non-sport_fans
  4. https://www.athleticinsight.com/Vol5Iss2/FanPDF.pdf
  5. http://www.sportsnetworker.com/2012/02/15/the-psychology-of-sports-fans-what-makes-them-so-crazy/
  6. http://newswise.com/articles/testosterone-levels-rise-in-fans-of-winning-teams
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14 thoughts on “The Sports Fan Identity

  1. Being a pretty big sports fan myself, I can definitely say that I identified with this blog a little too much. When the Canadian juniors lost to the US I definitely went into an emotional state… And yet I’m still ready to cheer them on again next year. So I looked at a couple articles and found one that really stood out to me and related to your blog quite well. The article looked at collective group identity and fan attendance. They found that having a collective group identity predicted fan support, and influenced attitudinal support of teams regardless of whether they’re attending these games or not. Which makes sense considering your team could be on a losing streak and yet you’re still wholeheartedly rooting for them and telling your friends “nah, it’s just a rough patch, they’re gonna get back to normal next game”, that sense of fan identity definitely creates a lot of emotional ties. And that’s probably why people rioted in Vancouver, or why the C of Red gets rowdy during playoffs, all thanks to that collective fan identity.

    Murrell, A. J., & Dietz, B. (1992). Fan support of sport teams: The effect of a common group identity. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 14(1), 28-39.

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    • This topic about imagined community and identity is rather interesting to me. There are people close to me who are sports fan. I now recognize they may have such a up and down in their emotion in relation to the success of the sports team they support for. And these may have a impact on the other part of life. There is the study that talks about the imagined interaction (IIs) and sports team identification (STI). As you said in the blog, sports fans share their identity with the sports or the specific team. The more imaginary or physical interaction they have the object, the higher esteem they report on themselves. If the IIs is hard to associate itself with the emotion, the self esteem it has effect on might have a more direct interaction with. Likely, how we esteem ourselves is influencing how much work is required to feed on the emotion.
      Keaton, S. A., Gearhart, C. C., & Honeycutt, J. M. (2014;2013;). Fandom and psychological enhancement: Effects of sport team identification and imagined interaction on self-esteem and management of social behaviors. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 33(3), 251-269. doi:10.2190/IC.33.3.c

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    • Speaking of Rioting and crowd rowdiness, that delves into another ares all together of fan identity. I was speaking mostly about individual fan identity where someone would watch a game at their house alone, but group fan identity can work a little difficulty. It can suffer from the “snowball effect”, where one fan starts something and it keeps rolling as more people join in. This could explain the rioting after the Vancouver game, lots riots were actually people that never even went to the game, but got caught up in it anyway.

      References:
      1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowball_effect

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    • Speaking of Rioting and crowd rowdiness, that delves into another ares all together of fan identity. I was speaking mostly about individual fan identity where someone would watch a game at their house alone, but group fan identity can work a little difficulty. It can suffer from the “snowball effect”, where one fan starts something and it keeps rolling as more people join in. This could explain the rioting after the Vancouver game, lots riots were actually people that never even went to the game, but got caught up in it anyway.

      References:
      1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowball_effect

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  2. I definitely agree that this is a very broad topic that includes sports, as well as other social gatherings such an game/comic conventions. An article I found wanted to take “fan theory” in another direction to demonstrate how individuals combine their own identity with fictional character’s identity to create a third community “fan identity”. One of the most interesting things from the article is that fans can either construct their costumes based on their own identity, or strictly focus on the character’s identity. As a collective, the group has formed specific rules and social norms/contracts that both cosplayers and non-cosplayers are expected to follow. Such as not taking photos of a cosplayer while they’re taking a break to eat and have their costume partially off, and not touching a costume that is not yours. So in this example the fan could be cosplaying and showing what character they are a fan of, or attending a convention to view these cosplayers as a fan of the person or show/comic/game in general.
    Lamerichs, N. (2010). Stranger than fiction: Fan identity in cosplay. Transformative Works and Cultures, 7.

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    • This is a interesting topic, and could lead to a further study into a all together different idea. With cosplayers the object of their “fandom” is very different, and therefore would have different effects on their emotional state. For example, cosplayers can actually pretend to play as their characters identity, leading to a more personal connection between them. Perhaps this would blurry the line between them and their Character? For example, previous psychological research has shown that wearing a mask can shift people’s experience of themselves and their behavior. In a study, people with a stutter actually stuttered less when in costume for their cosplay then when in normal attire. These findings are interesting and say something profound about the power of “hero worshipping” and cosplaying.
      References:
      1. http://www.drrobinrosenberg.com/resources/Cosplay-Expressions%20of%20Fandom.pdf

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  3. Super fascinating topic. I found some interesting information regarding the use of irony to enhance fan identity. Irony is often used as a form of aggression to rivals or to address expectancies of behaviors to their group or the opponents.In the first experiment, it was found that irony was used most commonly and appropriately to comment on players of the rival team. While in experiment two, irony was used to comment on competent behavior, those that heard the comments inferred that the speaker was most likely a rival fan with a negative view point. On the other hand, when irony was used to discuss incompetent behavior, recipients inferred that the speaker most likely shared their fan identity and was exhibiting positive communicative goals. They found that the communication pattern of ironic comments fans found most appropriate was different with the inferences neutral observers drew from ironic sports fans. Therefore implying that one’s position within fan identity may have differential effects on language use and the conclusions drawn from that language.
    http://fg2fy8yh7d.search.serialssolutions.com/?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&rft.genre=article&rft.jtitle=Human%20Communication%20Research&rft.stitle=Hum%20Commun%20Res&rft.atitle=How%20Sports%20Fans%20Forge%20Intergroup%20Competition%20Through%20Language%3A%20The%20Case%20of%20Verbal%20Irony&rft.volume=41&rft.issue=3&rft.spage=435&rft.epage=457&rft.date=2015-07-01&rft.aulast=Burgers&rft.aufirst=Christian&rft.issn=0360-3989&rft.eissn=1468-2958&rfr_id=info:sid/wiley.com:OnlineLibrary

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  4. This is an awesome read because I think it kind of relates to the topic of my blog last week on why we wear what we wear. I feel like the “imaginary community” you were referring to when talking about sports fans has a lot to do with (relational) frame theory and the framing effect. Relational frame theory argues that the building blocks of human language and higher cognition is ‘relating’ to one another, i.e. the human ability to create links between things. It can be contrasted with associative learning, which discusses how animals form links between stimuli in the form of the strength of associations in memory. However, relational frame theory argues that natural human language typically specifies not just the strength of a link between stimuli but also the type of relation as well as the dimension along which they are to be related (1). This could explain the social comradery of being involved in a fan base and why people come together in a place of gathering to share in an event . The other theory argues that framing an example of cognitive bias, in which people react to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it is presented; e.g. as a loss or as a gain. People tend to avoid risk when a positive frame is presented but seek risks when a negative frame is presented. Gain and loss are defined in the scenario as descriptions of outcomes. One of the dangers of framing effects is that people are often provided with options within the context of only one of the two frames (2). So just by the shirt an individual puts on it can either create (positive) social interaction by fandom or (negative) social competition due to team opposition.

    References:
    (1) Creed, W. E., Scully, M. A., & Austin, J. R. (2002). Clothes Make the Person? The Tailoring of Legitimating Accounts and the Social Construction of Identity. Organization Science, 13(5), 475-496. doi:10.1287/orsc.13.5.475.7814

    (2) Framing effect (psychology). (2017, March 05). Retrieved March 06, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framing_effect_(psychology)

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    • These are some very interesting ideas on the mechanisms behind sports “fan communities”. Some of the questions I have about operant conditioning being a working mechanism is that a lot of fans of teams are constantly disappointed by their teams year after year, yet they still take part in the fandom, for example the the Cleveland Browns (sorry for anyone who is a Cleveland Browns fan but it is true.) As for the relational frame theory I think that that is a very good theory that works with fan communities. I believe that sport fan communities can have lots of different frames with proved cognitive biases. Another good theory to look at is the “Social Identity Theory”, it states that people are motivated to behave in ways that maintain and boost their self esteem. Fans develop a type of ingroup social identity by attaching themselves and attaining group membership in a group that has value and significance to them. The fan then seeks to join and retain membership in those groups that have the most potential for contributing positively to his or her identity, and therefore strengthening their own self esteem.

      References:
      1.https://www.units.miamioh.edu/psybersite/fans/sit.shtml

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  5. Hi, really enjoyed your blog post this week. Being a huge sports fan myself, i can totally relate with the whole “fan identity” and having a sense of community. I came across an article that talks about how sports fans show an increase in heart rate before and during the games of their teams, and also how they exhibit emotional stress responses similar to the athletes they are watching.
    Very interesting topic overall.

    References
    -Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
    An Official Publication of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity

    Previous
    Volume 14 Issue 1, March 1992

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  6. Pingback: The Cosplay Identity | Educational Blog on Social Cognition Research

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