Football is a great model of social belonging, promoting inclusivity, teamwork, community spirit, social change, and individual achievement. Still, collective factors may be the reason behind acts of violence and vandalism. In a new study, neuroscientists at the University of San Sebastian investigate the brain mechanisms underlying positive and negative social stimuli in soccer fans in positive and negative social scenarios.
“Our study aims to uncover the behaviors and dynamics associated with extreme competitiveness, aggression, and social belonging within and between fans’ groups,” said the first author. Dr. Francisco Zamorano Mendietaa researcher at the University of San Sebastian.
Rivalries are deeply rooted in the history of sports, and fans can be very protective of their “home” team and favorite players.
These same fans run through a range of emotions as they watch their team succeed or fail during a game, cheering when they score or being furious at a bad call.
Soccer fans are known for their loyalty and enthusiasm for their team, especially in Europe and South America.
To gain insight into the brain mechanisms behind fan behavior, Dr. Zamorano and his colleagues recruited 43 healthy male volunteers for a functional MRI (fMRI) study.
Participants are fans of Chile’s two most popular soccer teams, which are considered arch-rivals.
They were divided into two groups: 22 supporters of one team and 21 supporters of the rival team.
They completed a survey to determine their Soccer Enthusiasm Score and underwent a psychological evaluation.
All participants received an edited version of the match containing 63 goals.
While participants watched a compilation of matches, their brain activity was measured using fMRI, a non-invasive imaging technique that detects changes in blood flow in the brain.
The fMRI results showed that fans’ brain activity changed depending on whether their team was successful or unsuccessful.
“When your team wins, the reward system in your brain is activated,” Dr. Zamorano says.
“Losing activates the mentalization network, putting fans into a reflective state, which may alleviate some of the pain of the loss.”
“We also observed that the brain hub connecting the limbic system and frontal cortex was disrupted, disrupting mechanisms that regulate cognitive control and increasing the likelihood of destructive or violent behavior. .”
The research team’s findings could shed light on social dynamics at all levels.
“People inherently crave social connection, whether it’s membership in a running club, participation in a book discussion group, or participation in a virtual forum,” Dr. Zamorano said.
“These social bonds are often formed around shared beliefs, values and interests, but there can also be elements of persuasive proselytism, or ‘groupthink’; That can lead to irrational beliefs and social discord.”
“The enthusiasm we see among some sports fans can serve as a convincing example of intense emotional investment, occasional aggressive behavior, and a decline in rationality.”
“Understanding the psychology of group identification and competition sheds light on decision-making processes and social dynamics, allowing us to more fully understand how societies operate.”
Authors present their work findings this month, Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting.
Francisco Zamorano Mendieta other. Brain mechanisms underlying emotional responses in social pain. Football as a surrogate for studying fanaticism: an fMRI study. RSNA 2023