Sports & Media Effects Part – 02
The fourth motive, escapism, applies quite broadly to many varieties of entertainment. People will often go to a movie or watch a television drama to escape momentarily their everyday humdrum. Sport spectating, however, seems to be an extraordinarily effective escape as evidenced by the following examples. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a decision to let the professional baseball seasons continue. In spite of the burden on the teams, players, and families, he hoped that it would provide Americans with an escape from their trying times (Wann, 1997). This, combined with the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943 (immortalized in the 1988 film A League of Their Own), at a time when a large number of male ballplayers were drafted for military service, points to the particular salience of sport spectatorship as an effective route for escape from worries.
The fifth motive, entertainment, is relatively self-explanatory. Spectators seek to be entertained by watching or listening to sporting events. According to sport psychologist Daniel Wann (1997), this motive may play heavily into the spectating of pseudosports. Pseudosports are ath-letic contests that are scripted and staged; for example, roller derby or professional wrestling. Sport researcher George P. Stone found in 1971 that although there is no surprise in the rigged outcome of these events—which is one of the fac-tors that differentiates sports from other entertain-ment—spectators were still attracted to them for their sheer entertainment value.
The seemingly paradoxical enjoyment of even these highly predictable sporting events may be due in part to the two basic tenets of disposition theory in sport fanship. These are laid out simply by Zillmann, Bryant, and Sapolsky (1989) as fol-lows: (1) positive feelings for a party (i.e., a team or player) will increase the enjoyment of witness-ing the victory of that party and (2) negative feel-ings toward a party will increase the enjoyment of witnessing the defeat of that party. These simple propositions are easy to apply to a sport where the victory of the proverbial “good guy” over the “bad guy” is doubtlessly written into the script. How-ever, such a view would also predict that the entertainment value should be magnified when the outcome is uncertain, making victory sweeter and defeat more devastating. Indeed, Zillmann, Bryant, and Sapolsky (1989) reported that factors that accentuate the human drama of sports (e.g., announcers that present the players as embittered rivals or the fierce competitive spirit of the partic-ipants in a contest) enhance the enjoyment of the sporting event.
The sixth motive for sport spectatorship, and one closely related to entertainment, is aesthetics. By the motive of aesthetics, it is meant that spec-tators are drawn to certain types of sports for the qualities of beauty, grace, and skill inherent in them. Sports such as figure skating, synchronized swimming, or gymnastics lend themselves for obvious reasons to aesthetic appreciation. Ameri-can football, baseball, and hockey might not seem such likely candidates for this motive, but one need only talk with a devotee of hockey or pay notice to the title of Robert Mayer’s 1984 book The Grace of Shortstops to realize that this is not nec-essarily the case. People marvel at the athletic ability of these skilled individuals who make diffi-cult, unbelievable plays. In fact, the cable sports network ESPN has begun to give out awards known as ESPYs to plays that are recognized as the most outstanding ones of the year.
Although relatively little research has been devoted to investigating the particular role of aes-thetics in sport spectatorship, there is some evi-dence that people appreciate and enjoy more complicated and difficult plays. However, it is often hard to separate the effects of the riskiness of a play from the success of the play. Risky or difficult plays that are successful lead to greater enjoyment (“great call”), but unsuccessful risky plays often result in the greatest disappointment. Nonetheless, there is sufficient evidence to this point that spectators derive enjoyment from an aesthetic appreciation of the skill and agility, as well as the competitiveness and intensity, of the players.
The last motive that will be discussed in this entry, self-esteem management, is one of the more thoroughly researched and complex motives of sport spectators. Several researchers have found that sport spectators derive self-esteem enhance-ment from identifying with a successful team. Robert Cialdini and his colleagues (1976) denoted a phenomenon known as “basking-in-reflected-glory” (or BIRGing), which refers to the tendency for individuals to proclaim their associ-ation with a successful other. For example, Cial-dini and his colleagues found that fans of a university’s college football team were more likely to wear school-identifying apparel on the Mon-days following team victories than on Mondays following team defeats. Moreover, in describing the outcome of team games, university students used the pronoun “we” to describe team victories (e.g., “We won that game, 20–17”) but used the pronoun “they” to describe team losses (e.g., “They lost, 38–14”). This research demonstrated that sports fans are more likely to illustrate their connection with a team when that team is suc-cessful. Conversely, sports fans tend to distance themselves from a team when that team is unsuc-cessful, a phenomenon that has been labeled “cutting-off-reflected-failure” (or CORFing). Cialdini and his colleagues argued that by BIRG-ing, an individual can derive positive esteem from their association with a successful other. Indeed, people often state their association (e.g., from the same hometown, attended the same school) with a famous celebrity or personality. Similarly, iden-tifying with a successful sports team can be a way to derive self-esteem from the success of the team. Team success becomes a personal success, and one can take pride in the accomplishment of one’s team.
But do people really feel greater self-esteem when a team is successful? Cialdini and Kenneth Richardson (1980) found that people whose self-esteem had previously been threatened (by failure on a social-skills task) were more likely to bask in the success of their school’s teams (as well as its other assets). Moreover, these same individuals experiencing a self-esteem threat were most likely to blast their school’s rival. Thus, it appears that self-esteem needs are indeed involved in the BIRG-ing phenomenon. Furthermore, Edward Hirt and his colleagues (1992) directly measured the self-esteem of fans after team victories and defeats and found that fans showed some elevation in mood and self-esteem after team wins, but reported lower mood and self-esteem following team losses. Indeed, in one study (Hirt et al., 1992; study 2), the reactions of fans to team success and failure were compared to a personal success and failure (i.e., doing well or poorly on a test of general intel-lectual ability). The results indicated that the mood and self-esteem of fans were as high after team success as after personal success, and as low after team failure as after personal failure.
These data strongly suggest that fans ally them-selves so closely to their team that they view team success as a personal success and team failure as a personal failure. Moreover, the outcome of a team had profound effects on the predictions by fans of their own future performance. Hirt and his col-leagues (1992) had fans predict how well they would do at a series of tasks following the game. It was found that after wins, fans were much more optimistic about their performance at these differ-ent tasks than they were after losses. After wins, fans viewed themselves as winners and predicted that they would be more successful in their future endeavors; after losses, they viewed themselves as losers and were much more pessimistic about the future. The most interesting implication of these findings is that, at least for highly allegiant fans, following their team is a precarious proposition. Fans can derive greater self-esteem when their team is successful but suffer self-esteem decre-ments when their team is unsuccessful.
It is important to note that not all sport spec-tators are highly allegiant fans. Many spectators may have little or no allegiance to the teams play-ing or may be best characterized as “fair weather fans” who jump on the bandwagon of teams who are successful and can bask in their reflected glory (BIRG). When these teams are no longer success-ful, these spectators lose interest in the team and can cut off reflected failure (CORF). However, for fans who strongly identify with a team, they main-tain their allegiance to the team through thick and thin. They suffer through the poor seasons and hard times, but relish the successful seasons and good times. The sense of loyalty that these indi-viduals feel to their team becomes a critical part of their identity and they steadfastly maintain their allegiance to the team (case in point, the long-suf-fering Chicago Cubs fans).
An intriguing aspect of the BIRGing phenome-non is that the spectators feel justified in taking some credit for the success of the team. While many people acknowledge the “home-field advantage” in sports and view this advantage as at least partially due to the support and cheering of the fans in the audience during home games, it is more difficult to imagine how spectators watching the game on tele-vision can believe that they had a causal effect on the game. However irrational this belief may appear to be, psychological research has shown that indi-viduals merely associated with positive or desirable events are liked, whereas individuals associated with negative or undesirable events are disliked (cf. Zajonc, 1980). Thus, associating with a winner or a team of winners will elevate the esteem of an indi-vidual in the eyes of others and is an avenue for improving an individual’s self-evaluation.
Research has attempted to understand other bases for the desire of fans to affiliate themselves with sports teams. Mark Dechesne, Jeff Greenberg, and their colleagues (2000) argued that one source may be a fear of death. In their research, they compared the reactions of people who are first asked to consider their own death (a mortal-ity salient condition) to a control condition wherein people are not asked to ponder their own mortality. They found that fans who were reminded of their own death showed stronger affiliation and identification with their team, sug-gesting that allegiance to a successful team may help individuals cope with and transcend mortal-ity concerns. These conclusions also fit in nicely with the notion that identifying with sports teams serves social needs for belongingness: individuals who feel connected to and identify with a success-ful other or group may feel better about them-selves and the meaningfulness of their existence.
As has been discussed, there are a variety of dif-ferent theories about what motivates people to be sport spectators. It is likely that, for many individ-uals, multiple goals and motives are being satisfied while watching sports. Sport spectating may serve as a source of highly stimulating and captivating entertainment, while simultaneously satisfying social and self-esteem needs. Indeed, the perva-siveness of sport spectatorship in Western society almost requires that this is so, since its appeal extends to so many different types of people This is not to say that there are not individual differences in the kinds of people who are the most avid sport spectators. A good deal of research has attempted to identify a personality profile of the sports fan. The word “fan,” short for “fanatic,” implies an individual with an undying devotion to their team. Indeed, the behavior of these highly devoted fans (whose rituals before and during games are legendary) is often bewildering to those individuals who are not fans. A dispositional approach to sport fanship has yielded some inter-esting findings, but its greatest contribution appears to be demonstrating how individual differ-ences moderate the strength of the various motives underlying sport spectatorship. For example, indi-viduals differ in their degree of sensation seeking (Zuckerman, 1979). High-sensation seekers crave excitement and are easily bored; these individuals tend to prefer high-risk sports and activities. Low-sensation seekers, on the other hand, tend to pre-fer the safety and predictability of routine. Thus, the extent to which stimulation motives underlie sport fanship should be greater for high-sensation-seeking individuals. Similarly, individuals with low self-esteem have been shown to be likely to engage in indirect forms of self-enhancement, such as basking in reflected glory (Brown, Collins, and Schmidt, 1988). Individuals with high self-esteem prefer to derive their esteem from their own accomplishments as opposed to the accomplish-ments of others with whom they are associated. As a result, the self-esteem management function of sport fanship is likely to play a greater role for indi-viduals with low self-esteem. These results under-score the value in considering that certain types of individuals may be more prone to be attracted to sports and to become sport spectators precisely because salient motives in their lives can be satis-fied through sport fanship.
Conclusions and Future Directions
It is clear at the beginning of the twentieth cen-tury that sport spectatorship is growing to unprecedented proportions. Further research is needed in order to understand the bases for this phenomenon. Although the theories and research reviewed in this entry have provided some insights to the reasons and motives that may be associated with sport spectatorship, the work has been generally descriptive in nature and has not fully elaborated the factors underlying these motives or the ways in which watching sports sat-964 • SPORTS AND MEDIA EFFECTS
isfies these fundamental needs and motives. One potential fruitful avenue for future research is an examination of the biological bases for these motives. Indeed, some of the work on individual differences has focused on the biological differ-ences between individuals who are high or low in sensation seeking. People who have a high level of sensation seeking have a lower baseline level of arousal than people who have a low level of sen-sation seeking—which may account for their greater need to seek arousing stimuli in their envi-ronment. Work by Paul Bernhardt, James Dabbs, and their colleagues (1998) has found changes in the testosterone levels of fans in response to the winning and losing of their sports teams, changes that seem to parallel the psychological changes to winning and losing that were documented earlier in this entry. Increases in testosterone levels were associated with watching winning performances, implying that physiological changes may under-score psychological phenomena such as basking in reflected glory. Furthermore, changes in testos-terone levels have been shown to be associated with expressions of dominance and aggressive behavior, which may provide some links to under-standing achievement-seeking motives in sport spectating as well as the increases in violent behavior often associated with sport spectating. When combined with the solid foundation in research and theory outlined in this article, results such as these provide some exciting future direc-tions for the study and understanding of sport spectatorship and all its many facets.
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EDWARD R. HIRT
NATHAN L. STEELE
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