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Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles both celebrated the historic Super Bowl win of the team by celebrating as well as destroying. After the team won over the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl stunner, some wild fans turned over cars, climbed up street lamps, broke store windows, run around naked in public wearing bird masks, and even ate horse feces.
The twisted and counterproductive manner that the sports fans responded was attributed by experts to the psychology of aggression and crowd behavior, Fortune reported. Such acts of violence and aggression, according to conventional psychological wisdom, were motivated by fear, anger, and other negative emotions.
Strong drivers of destructive behavior
However, more recent studies found that positive emotions which trigger the pleasure and rewards center of the brain are equally strong drivers of destructive behavior, Dr. David Chester, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, said. He is a specialist in the sociological and biological mechanisms that drive aggression.
For a lot of people, aggressive behavior and property damage are actually pleasant behaviors because they feel good. Chester explained that when a team wins in sports, the brain would tend to respond to the victory like a person receives money, a tasty beverage, or a drug particularly liked. It recruits the reward circuits of the brain which include the ventral tegmental area, the ventral striatum, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
What happens is that the activity in the rewards circuits had been heightened. When the victor goes out into the world, they will be pursuing rewarding behaviors that they, normally, would not do in their daily life. Chester attributed the behavior to cranking that part of the brain up to 11.
Role of herd mentality
The assistant professor added that in the rowdy fan behavior, herd behavior also plays a major role. Although social identity is an extremely strong part of human existence and people need each other to survive and strive, in the case of large sporting events where people self-segregate into specific tribes, the de-individualization effect can lead to a type of mob mentality, Chester said.
He noted that in such situations, the line between personal and group success becomes fuzzy. People experience the win of the team like their personal win, leading to the identity fusion effect. It can become almost impossible to separate an individual from the group. Chester compared the situation to getting the eggs out of the cake mix.
The need to belong
Daniel Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State College, said that fans feel so strongly about their teams because humans, as social creatures, have a need to belong. He compared sports fandom to a religion which is self-selecting but is also strongly influenced by the environment, including the family and other people you grew up with.
In studies on college students, Wann discovered that fans who identified strongly with a team, often, are less likely to feel lonely or alienated and have higher self-esteem.
Edward Hirt, a social psychologist at Indiana University, said that because of the strong identification with sports teams for ardent fans, the team becomes an extension of the fan. It can have profound effects on the psychology of people and even on their physiology.
To measure that effect, Hirt held a study in the 1990s on college basketball fans. He said that the fans who saw their team win believed that they can do better even in tasks that seem unrelated, like shooting darts or solving anagrams.
Some studies, meanwhile, found that the testosterone levels of the fans often would go up as their teams win and go down when the team loses.
But most experts agree that it is the mob mentality that a lot to do with what happened in the Super Bowl win of the Philadelphia Eagles, The Washington Post reported.
Jason Lanter, a psychology professor at Kutztown University, cited the contagion theory in which people do things in crowds that they would not do alone because they think they are anonymous. He added that people make poor decisions in crowds.
It is because when in crowds, people often lose their self-awareness and feel a sense of safety in numbers. Wann also blamed alcohol which added fuel to the action.
Jerry Lewis, a sociologist at Kent State University, said that fans riot as a way to identify with and join in the victory of their teams. Most of the rioters are young white males, he observed. They cannot throw a football 60 yards like the quarterback can, but they can throw a rock through the window or pull down a light pole. Lewis said that to them, it becomes their feat of strength and skill.
In recent years, more women had been added to the NFL fan base, but about 55 percent of the fans are males. The male majority of sports audience raises the stakes for pandemonium after something like a Super Bowl win.
[메디컬리포트=Vittorio Hernandez 기자]