Thursday, June 4, 2020

Functional neural substrates of football fanaticism

n.b. football is soccer 

Bilgiç B, Kurt E, Makar ÇC, et al. Functional Neural Substrates of Football Fanaticism: Different Pattern of Brain Responses and Connectivity in Fanatics [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 31]. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2020;10.1111/pcn.13076. doi:10.1111/pcn.13076 


Aim: Sports activities provide social interaction for humans. Commitment to a given team is a salient feature of being a sports fan and becomes a prominent part of self-identification for fanatics. Emotion, subjective hedonic experience, and non-romantic love are related to fan behaviors. Few studies have evaluated the neural basis of sports fanaticism. 

Methods: Thirty men, including 16 football fanatics and 14 non-fanatics, with a mean age of 27.4 ± 6.4 years (range, 20-48) were enrolled. Subjects underwent fMRI while watching a set of goals scored by favorite, rival, and neutral teams. 

Results: The analysis of variance in GLM revealed a significant Group-by-Condition interaction effect in the bilateral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), more prominent in the left hemisphere. In the post-hoc comparisons, fanatics showed increased activation in bilateral dACC, supplementary motor cortex (SMA), superior frontal cortex, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right insula for favorite>neutral contrast and an increased activation in bilateral dACC and SMA for rival>neutral contrast. Seed-based connectivity analyses using the areas with significant activation differences revealed increased connectivity between dACC and several regions, including left posterior lateral temporal area, insula, and bilateral medial temporal, medial superior frontal areas as well as basal ganglia in fanatics compared to non-fanatics. 

Conclusion: Our results suggest that football fanatics exhibit different brain activation and connectivity pattern, both under favorable and unfavorable conditions. This brain activity and connectivity pattern under emotionally-laden conditions may represent higher responses to rewards, higher emotional valence attribution, and stronger motivational state of the football fanatics that might underlie their unusual behavioral responses. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

From the article

There are several classification systems for sports fans based on the  level of their devotion. Hunt and coworkers grouped sports fans as “temporary fan”, “local fan”, “devoted fan”, “fanatical fan” and “dysfunctional fan”.  In the case of fanatic and dysfunctional fans, commitment to a favorite team becomes a prominent part of their social identity. Another important determinant factor for fanatics is having an opponent, a “rival team,” which introduces an in-group/out-group bias in their social life. On the other hand, it was proposed that feeling of belongingness and passion for a football team could be considered as a form of non-romantic love called “tribal love”.

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