Anatomy of a Football Fan

Football season means a lot of different things for different people: cooler weather, approaching holidays, something to watch on Sunday night television—but for most people, football season is a chance to cheer on your favorite team (whoever that may be). We all know the rush of winning a nail-biting game, but what’s going on in our minds and bodies as we are going hoarse from cheering our team to victory?  

Watching a game affects you physically, psychologically, and emotionally. 

Competitiveness, pride, and even a piece of our own identity all contribute to why we get so caught up in whether or not our team wins or loses. When you are incredibly invested in the outcome of a game, it has a big impact on your brain. The limbic system is the part of your brain that deals with fear, fight-or-flight, and competitiveness. This system becomes highly engaged during intense moments of sports games, which translates to extreme emotions, such as yelling at your television screen. 

Your cerebral cortex—the part of your brain that deals with decision making—is dampened during this time as well. This is what contributes to the feeling of being “lost in the moment” during points of high tension and causes us to yell, cheer, and even cry with complete abandon. 

There is also evidence from some studies that suggests when our brains are witnessing someone else perform an action, the same neurons fire in our own brains as if we were performing the action ourselves. These neurons are referred to as “mirror neurons,” and for someone with a healthy premotor cortex—part of the frontal lobe of the brain that plays a role in controlling behavior—there is only about an 80% difference between witnessing the action and actually performing the action ourselves. In other words, this phenomenon causes us to feel like we are personally experiencing every play that we watch on the field—contributing even further to our investment in the game. 

Being a sports fan makes you happier and healthier...

Studies show that die-hard sports fans have higher self-esteem, are less depressed, less alienated, and less lonely. Generally, humans tend to search for a sense of belonging among a community of like-minded individuals. Therefore, feeling like we are part of a community boosts our sense of well-being and decreases loneliness—and this even goes beyond watching a game with other people around. These effects are more long-term, with most sports fans reporting lower levels of loneliness regardless of whether the game is on or not. 

Sports unite people of all races, sexes, ages, and ethnicities. Being a fan makes us feel like a part of something larger than ourselves, which is beneficial regardless of whether or not our team wins or loses. 

...but it also has the potential to negatively affect your life as well. 

Not only is your testosterone affected by the wins and losses and your blood pressure increased while watching games, but a new study suggests that football fans are also more likely to die of heart-related diseases after their team loses the Super Bowl. Additionally, you may be in danger while driving home after winning a close game according to some recent studies that show an increase in traffic fatalities near the hometowns of winning teams on game days.