In the January 2011 issue of Psychological Science, Mina Cikara and colleagues studied baseball fans' reactions to play of their & their rival's teams and have shown that "the failures of an in-group member are painful, whereas those of a rival out-group member may give pleasure—a feeling that may motivate harming rivals." As a long-time NY Football Giants fan, this is not a surprise to me.
Frankly, I was most entertained by the methods they used to elicit fans' pleasant and painful feelings. They tested "die-hard" Red Sox (n=11) or Yankees (n=7) fans. To determine die-hard fan status, the authors asked participants to
correctly identify photos of three Red Sox players and three Yankees players that we selected, as well as the position of a fourth player we selected from each team. Participants also had to give extreme responses to questions regarding how they felt about their favored team and how they felt about their rival team (scale from 1, love them, to 10, hate them).The stimuli, illustrated at right, involved several plays, yielding four possible conditions: favorite team's (let's call them the Red Sox) success against the rival team (ok, it's the Yankees); Yankees' failure against the rival team (both of these, are, of course, subjectively positive); favored team's failure against the rival team (subjectively negative) and the rival team's failure against a neutral team (the Orioles. How did they get to be neutral, I wonder?). This last is the "pure schadenfreude" condition -- which is both amusing and so true.
The study's participants "rated the subjectively negative plays as significantly more angering and painful than the plays in the subjectively positive and control conditions." (emphasis mine). When the authors followed up with the participants two weeks later, the fans indicated that they were 'significantly more likely" to heckle, insult, threaten, and even hit a rival fan than an Orioles fan. Yikes! (tho', if I'm honest, this is not news to me).
To me, the methods were as entertaining as the conclusion, so I'll leave the conclusion to the folks at Psychological Science's Daily Observations, to ensure accuracy:
When the rival team hit a home run against the favored team, the brain’s pain network was engaged. Most strikingly, participants who showed the greatest pleasure when watching their rival fail were also the most prone to say they might act aggressively, even violently, toward a rival fan. These results establish an initial neural link between social-mediated emotion and socially-directed action.Please note that I do not advocate sports violence in any way. Also note that I chose my team in the above example purely at random and in no way wish harm to the New York Yankees or their fans. As for the Superbowl: go Steelers! go Packers!
For More Information
- Cikara, Mina, Matthew M. and Susan T. Fiske. Us Versus Them: Social Identity Shapes Neural Responses to Intergroup Competition and Harm. Psychological Science January 2011. doi:10.1177/0956797610397667 (abstract free; full-text available @ your library).
- the Association for Psychological Science's Daily Observations are fascinating and worth following on the web or via Twitter (@PsychScience).
- Thanks to UConn's Dr. Ross Buck for alerting me to this paper.
- No discussion of the condition of schadenfreude is complete without a link to the Avenue Q song of the same name: Schadenfreude.