Hardcore football fans experience the greatest physiological stress response

Fans who are ‘fused’ with their team are more likely to experience intense – potentially dangerous – levels of stress while watching live football.

There have been several studies compiled to research behaviors and characteristics of football fans all over the world, most of which end up with the conclusion that there is only really one outcome, the language of football is universal.

Some fans exhibit such strong emotions when watching live matches, that they experience dangerous levels of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone cortisol, commonly associated with stress, suggests a new study. Such fans experience the greatest physiological stress response when watching a match.

Conducted by the University of Oxford with Brazilian spectators during the 2014 World Cup, hosted in Brazil, the study verified a scientific link between fans’ intense group bonding with their team and levels of cortisol (stress hormone) while they watch football. 

For the study, scientists collected fan’s saliva before, during, and after matches, including Brazil’s historic semi-final loss (1 – 7) to Germany.

Scientists found that the cortisol rocketed during live games for the fans who were highly fused to the team. It was particularly high during games where their team lost.

Dr. Martha Newson, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, University of Oxford, said“Interestingly, there were no differences in cortisol concentrations between men and women. Despite preconceptions that men tend to be more bonded to their football teams, women were found to be slightly more bonded to their national team than the men.”

“This study has shown how people who are highly bonded to their football teams (and likely many other group identities) have a unique psychophysiological profile. This can be seen in the well-known antics of football fans, from ritualized chanting and singing through to violence. We can see where these reactions are coming from, due to their surge in cortisol during a match compared to fans who merely support their team, but are not fused with them.”

“From our research, we may be better equipped to identify which fans are most at risk of heart attacks. Clubs may be able to offer heart screenings or other health measures to highly committed fans who are at the greatest risk of experiencing increased stress during the game.”

“The findings could also be relevant to improving crowd management strategies. Strategies that aim to reduce stress hormones following particularly intense matches could help reduce incidents of hooliganism and violence.”

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