As much as we might live for it, football can be a real source of stress – in particular if our team is losing.
That’s according to a recent infographic on the science of football fandom, which looks at the ways our brains and bodies react before, during and after a match.
Dr Susan K. Whitbourne, an expert on the topic, says that watching football at home on TV can intensify our emotions. Watching on TV rather than being at the stadium heightens our feeling of being absorbed in the game, but also increases the potential for frustration. “You’re seeing things up close as if you were a player,” she says, “but without the ability to influence the score.”
And when the match is truly important, our stress levels go up. A word of warning: expect plenty of nervousness when the Super Eagles open their World Cup account against Croatia next month.
Here are some interesting findings from the infographic:
- Seeing our team win is a great mood booster: “Neurotransmitters responsible for excitement and elation flood the brain and lead to waves of pleasure,” says Dr Whitbourne. This coincides with the feeling that our fellow supporters are like family.
- Seeing our team lose brings painful disappointment: Adrenaline and cortisol move through our blood when our team is doing badly, tightening our muscles and raising our blood pressure.
- Group anger also comes into play: When watching in a group, we tend to react as one, and because we’ve got the safety net of the group, we’re less likely to censor our behaviour. This is a phenomenon called “deindividuation” and it can result in fans becoming aggressive.
Despite the potential for stress, football does a lot of good, as Dr Whitbourne points out: “Identifying with your team, particularly your local team, enhances your mental health by allowing you to feel a sense of community and integration with the group.”
Plus, a tournament like the World Cup gives us an appreciation for the world around us. “International sports competitions can do a great deal of good by allowing those who watch the games to learn about other countries,” says Dr Whitbourne.
So, as June rolls around and the World Cup looms ever closer, wear your Nigerian shirt with pride; but remember that football is a global game – one that matters to each and every one of us around the world.