COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s no better feeling than watching your favorite sports team come from behind and pull off an exciting victory. People become extremely attached and connected to their sports teams, but there may be a positive mental health outcome as a result. A study by Ohio State University has found that fans experience a boost in self-esteem after watching their team win a big game.
More specifically, researchers found that college football fans enjoyed improved self-esteem following a team victory for at least two full days afterwards. But, what about fans on the losing side of the equation? Luckily, fans of a team that just suffered a loss don’t necessarily experience a drop in their self-esteem, but their moods are often dampened.
Another crucial finding from the study was that both winning and losing fans alike benefit from watching games in a group setting, surrounded by friends. Being around other people softens the blow of a tough loss, but also boosts happiness and self-esteem in the event of an epic victory.
“Just feeling connected to others while watching the game helped sustain self-esteem,” says co-author and professor of communication at OSU Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, in a media release. “So for fans of the winning team, the social aspect of sharing the victory with each other led to a self-esteem boost. For fans of the losing team, sharing the pain may have protected them from losing self-esteem. Those who didn’t watch at all experienced a self-esteem drop – they felt completely left out.”
Knobloch-Westerwick and her team questioned 174 students from Ohio State and Michigan State Universities about their self-esteem, mood, and other issues just before a big college football game between the two schools on November 21, 2015. Michigan State ended up beating Ohio State 17-14 on a last-second field goal.
Following the game, students from both schools were surveyed again the very next day, as well as two days afterwards. To get accurate readings, researchers told students the questions were for a “well-being and leisure activities” study, unrelated to sports and fandom.
Before the big game, students from the rival universities exhibited similar self-esteem levels regarding their appearance, body, academic ability, and other measures. However, on the day after the game, students from the victorious Michigan State displayed much higher levels of self-esteem than Ohio State students. Two days later, the Michigan State students self-esteem levels rose even higher, while the Ohio State students’ self-esteem scores stayed the about the same.
Researchers noted that how, and if, the students watched the game played a large role in its impact on their self-esteem. Across both schools, those who watched the game socially displayed the highest self-esteem, followed by those who hadn’t watched the game at all. Finally, those who had watched the game by themselves ranked lowest.
Self-esteem levels also fluctuated once classes started up again on Monday; those who had watched the game, either alone or with others, enjoyed a boost in self-esteem. Conversely, those who hadn’t watched the game at all saw their self-esteem levels drop.
“The game was probably an important topic of conversation on campus the following Monday, and that boosted the self-esteem of those who watched it and could talk about it and share the joy or pain,” Knobloch-Westerwick comments. “People who didn’t watch couldn’t participate in the conversations, which probably led to a loss of self-esteem.”
Researchers say their findings illustrate one of the main reasons why sports fans tend to become so interested in their favorite sports teams — they themselves feel better about themselves when their team wins. Furthermore, it’s almost always a better experience to watch the games around other people.
“You want to be in this with other people. Winning or losing, it is better to be a fan with your friends,” Knobloch-Westerwick concludes.
The study is published in the journal Communication and Sport.