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Why Do We Care Who Wins?

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Originally posted on January 13, 2015.

Last night’s national championship college football game, today’s New York Times article on America’s greatest small college rivalry (involving my own Hope College), and the upcoming Super Bowl all bring an interesting psychological question to mind:  Why do we care who wins? What psychological dynamics energize rabid fans?

In a 2008 Los Angeles Times essay I offered answers to my own questions, which first crossed my mind just before tipoff at that rivalry game described in today’s Times. The pertinent dynamics include the evolutionary psychology of groups, ingroup bias, social identity, group polarization, and the unifying power of a shared threat.

In a 2014 Politico essay I extended these principles in reflections on political and religious animosities between groups that, to outsiders, seem pretty similar (think Sunni and Shia, or Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant).  The same social dynamics that fuel fun sports rivalries can, writ large, produce deep-rooted hostilities and social violence.

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).