The Roots of Rooting

The Psychology of Sport Fans

World Cup + Wins = Romantic Bliss?

Research suggests that it depends where you live.

Hyundai’s #BecauseFutbol advertising campaign features a humorous commercial that implies futbol wins may account for spikes in population. The advertisement opens with a hospital waiting room overcrowded with expecting parents. A shot of a nursery filled to capacity follows. “ A nurse cradling a newborn asks, “What was going on nine months ago?”

The scene shifts from the nursery, where milk and formula are the bottled beverages of choice, to pubs where bottles of Corona or Guinness are preferred. Fans watching their favorite futbol team on television celebrate goals and victories. The commercial ends with a couple, previously introduced in the hospital waiting room, kicking over a lamp as they begin to passionately celebrate a win. The attribution the viewer is expected to generate is that these amorous post-victory celebrations are the source of the population boost.

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The conclusion that victories, in comparison to defeats, are beneficial to relationships might be supported in the United States, but may not be generalizable to the futbol world.

End, Worthman, Foster and Vandemark (2009) surveyed college students regarding how one’s favorite team’s performance (victories in comparison to defeats) influenced his or her romantic partner’s mood as well as the interactions with his or her romantic partner. Consistent with the Hyundai commercial, after a favorite team was victorious, participants reported relationship benefits. Specifically, the participants reported that following victories partners demonstrated lower levels of negative affect, greater levels of positive affect, less irritability, and experienced greater enjoyment interacting with their romantic partner in comparison to losses.

To test the generalizability of these findings, Avelina Padin (Xavier University, ’14) travelled to Costa Rica and collected data from Costa Rican college students. Shelby Mytyk (XU, ‘ 14) and others collected data from a second sample of U.S. college students. Padin et al. (2013) hypothesized that the effects on romantic relationships following a loss would be more pronounced in a country where “machismo,” or hyper-masculinity, is more prevalent. In many Latin American countries, “machismo” is correlated with a strong desire to maintain male honor. Violence against a romantic partner is sometimes used to maintain this honor when a man feels it has been threatened (Vandello & Cohen, 2003). Therefore, Padin et al. theorized that following a team loss, an event that would threaten one’s social identity, negative interactional behaviors such as arguing or violence may be more common in countries where “machismo” is endorsed.

Contrary to Padin et al.’s hypotheses, End et al.’s (2009) findings, and the Hyundai hypothesis, the Costa Rican sample indicated that victories and losses may produce similarly negative effects on relationships. Regardless of outcome, Costa Rican participants reported higher levels of negative mood, violence, fear of the partner, irritability, arguments, yelling, and giving each other space. These participants also reported less discussion of the game and less enjoyment of each other’s company than participants from the United States sample.

Participants in the U.S. sample associated victories with favorable responses such as more favorable mood, greater enjoyment of company, and greater likelihood of talking about the game, and defeats with unfavorable responses such as greater likelihood of yelling, more irritability, greater likelihood to give space, and more fear of being around the partner.

The research suggests that U.S. World Cup victories have the potential of producing nursery room sellouts in nine months, while games that feature the national teams of machismo cultures may serve as a form of birth control – unless there is a preponderance of make-up sex.

 

End, C.M., Worthman, S., Foster, N.J., & Vandemark, A.P. (2009). Sport and relationships: The influence of game outcome on romantic relationships. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(1), 37-48.

Padin, A.C., Mytyk, S.A., Sherman, K.M., Heilman, R.R., Falco, G.N., & End, C.M. Cross-cultural differences in the effect of outcome on relationships. (March, 2013). Poster presented to the annual meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association, Atlanta, GA. Winner of a SEPA Convention’s Student Research Award.

Vandello, J.A. & Cohen, D. (2003). Male honor and female fidelity: Implicit cultural scripts that perpetuate domestic violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(5), 997-1010.

 

Christian M. End, a social psychologist who investigates the psychology of sport fan behavior, is an associate professor at Xavier University.

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