Well, it’s official sports fans – we now have scientific evidence that being a fan is good for you. What’s more, it’s apparently also good for society. This Boston Globe piece outlines some recent research on the topic very nicely. Who would have thought that being in love with your team can increase happiness, wealth, and one’s general outlook on life? Here’s an excerpt:
Edward Hirt, a professor of psychology at Indiana University, has found that the school’s famously ardent basketball fans saw their opinion of themselves rise and fall with the fortunes of the team. Over the years, he has conducted various versions of a study in which fans, after watching a game, are asked how well they thought they would do at a variety of tasks – throwing darts, shooting free throws, solving various word games, even rolling dice. Consistently, both male and female fans showed a sharp rise in confidence in their abilities on all the tasks after a win, and a corresponding drop after a loss. Winning even made fans feel sexier: When shown a picture of an attractive member of the opposite gender after a win, they were far more likely to say they would be able to get that person to go on a date with them.
Findings like these suggest that there might be a broadly shared psychological boost from our stubborn inability to separate our own accomplishments from those of a group of multimillionaire professional athletes who have never heard of us. Multiple studies, for example, have shown that testosterone levels in male fans rise in the wake of a victory, and drop in the wake of a defeat. A study published earlier this year of traders on the London Stock Exchange found that the ones with higher levels of testosterone made more money than their colleagues – the researchers suggested that it might be because the hormone emboldened the traders to take bigger risks.
A large body of psychological research suggests that the kind of psychological changes seen in fans after a victory could translate into positive behavior. More self-confident people tend generally to do better at life: they get better grades, make more money, have more friends, even live longer. And the self-confidence doesn’t have to be earned to make a difference. Shelley Taylor, a UCLA psychologist, has found that having outright illusions about one’s abilities, and about the amount of control one has over the events in one’s life, makes people happier, harder working, and more successful at whatever they put their minds to. When Taylor looked at AIDS patients in the late 1980s (a time when the disease was far less treatable than it is today), she found that those with an unrealistically optimistic sense of their prognosis lived an average of 9 months longer than those with a more accurate understanding of the disease.