Fanning the Flames – From Tweets to Twits

It was with great interest that I watched the twitter wars and blogs covering this past weekend’s hard fought Denver – Minnesota-Duluth hockey series. Pioneer (2-0/series) fans saw the series as a poorly officiated ‘chippy’ affair. On the other hand, the UMD (0-2/series) Bulldog blogs and twitter supporters saw the series as a highly competitive physical affair and characterized DU’s team and supporters as soft, spoiled babies.

DU posted the game ‘highlights’, see for yourself (Game 2 Highlights).

One of the UMD fan blogs, Run with the Dogs, had a very funny write up on the game, focusing on LetsGoDU’s ‘exaggerated’ claims that the game was poorly officiated and the Bulldogs were the chippy aggressor (here) – even (tongue in cheek) criminal in this case. It was very funny – if somewhat misguided.

So the question had to be asked: How can people, watching the same hockey game, one with slightly diminished mental capacity, come to two entirely different conclusions?

The Washington Post published an article called The psychology of why sports fans see their teams as extensions of themselves. The author, using “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans,” as a guide, says being a fan is an expansion of a fan’s sense of self. It’s a literal confusion in the brain about what is “me” and what is “the team.” In all kinds of unconscious ways, a fan mirrors the feelings, actions and even hormones of the players. Self-Esteem rides on the outcome of the game and the image of the franchise.

So what games were the Bulldog fans watching?

Studies show that fans are quite biased toward self and team. Their relationship with a sports team makes their brain actually think that the sports team is them – and it applies a lot of those biases to the actions of the team. When the team is accused of wrong doing (example- giving another player a glove face-wash in the handshake line), it’s the fan’s instinct to explain and rationalize.

And what about rough play and fan perceptions?

A famous study in perceptual bias actually comes from football. A researcher studying a 1951 football game between Dartmouth and Princeton noticed that fans simply could not agree on what had happened. The game had been “rough,” – both sides agreed. But was it fair? And who started the rough stuff? It all depended on which team you liked.

And what are we to make of the mental make up of a teams fans?

Neuroscientists such as UCLA’s Marco Iacoboni found that the brain’s “mirror” neurons underlie fandom by putting fans’ brains in sync with the brains of their teams’ players. Endocrinologists have shown repeatedly that fans’ hormonal responses (particularly in men) can mirror the responses of the players who are competing. Put it all together and it’s no surprise to find, as Arizona State psychology and marketing professor Robert Cialdini first did in the 1970s, that the use of the royal “we” increases after wins and decreases after losses as fans “bask in reflected glory” or “cut off reflected failure.”

So how do we prove to UMD supporters that they are supporting a bunch of thugs?

According to the article, the Bulldog fans needed an extra level of proof to change their views over the weekend. It is rational, if intellectually dishonest, to forgive or explain the behavior of one’s team – even if the behavior is clearly unacceptable. Sports fans are going to demand a higher standard of evidence, or a different presentation of the evidence, than rational, impartial people would. Maybe they need to watch the game again – without the crutch of excess alcohol or listening to their ‘homer’ play-by-play announcer.

So as a highly objective party, what are we to think? Five conclusions emerge:

  • Bulldog fans are delusional
  • Bulldog fans have self esteem issues
  • Bulldog fans (0-2) are currently ‘they’ people – not ‘we’ people
  • Bulldog fans are experiencing ‘reflective failure’ – give them a hug and show kindness
  • Bulldog fans are detached from reality

And DU? We won – a 2-0 sweep! Yea BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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