Numerous studies have found that when individuals (especially men) engage in competitive endeavors, winners experience a rise in their testosterone (T) levels whereas losers’ testosterone levels drop. This T effect has been document across several species including humans. Some of you might recall one of my first posts wherein I discussed one of my recent publications where we showed that men’s testosterone levels increased when driving a Porsche (a form of social win).
In a few hours, the World Cup Final will be held between the Netherlands and Spain. Whereas we should all expect that the players’ T levels will fluctuate as a result of the outcome of the match, incredibly, spectators’ T levels will also respond, as a function of whether their favorite team wins or loses.
Bernhardt et al. (1998) conducted such a study at the World Cup Final of 1994 (played between Brazil and Italy). They collected salivary samples from fans of both teams prior to the game and shortly thereafter. You might recall that Brazil won this otherwise extraordinarily boring final on penalty kicks. The researchers obtained a statistically significant T effect such that Brazilian fans displayed an increase in their T levels whereas the Italian fans exhibited a decrease in theirs. This is quite extraordinary in that it demonstrates that we can experience a vicarious endocrinological response. As social species, our brains have the uncanny ability to construe our favorite sports teams as part of our in-group even though we’re likely to have never met the players whom we care so much about!
By the way, whenever the World Cup comes around, I cannot help but reexperience the profound regret for not having moved to Europe as a teenager to pursue my own soccer career. I might be the only person on earth who had the ability to be a professional athlete and yet who pursued an academic career instead! Who would want the prospective glory of being adored by billions of soccer fans…I have my legion of PT readers! :)
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