Why We Love to Hate That Other School in Our State
With another “Hate Week” on the horizon, as we travel to the Crisler Center to take on the Michigan Wolverines, and in the wake of the Kansas vs. Kansas State chair raising brawl, I thought it would be appropriate to bring in some meaning behind rivalries and why we hold them so close to our hearts.
Ingroup – Outgroup
First, to define some terminology, an ingroup can be defined as the group you belong to and identify with, and an outgroup would be the opposite, the group you do not identify with. Rivalries provide us with an immediate ingroup, the fan base we identify with, and the perfect pre-formed outgroup to hate on, the rival fan base.
Sharing our state with another team means every game is more than just another win for our record, but rather each game is the opportunity to defend our territory. So much of the heat that boils over during rivalries is because of overlapping fan bases. You’ve all seen the ugly “House Divided” shirts that make you cringe, or you have that second cousin that loves to chant the fight song that causes your skin to crawl. The mixing of your ingroup and that dreaded outgroup drives the rivalry to a higher level with every clash.
As much as we, the fans, want our teams to be undefeated every season, the reality is we would eventually lose interest if that were the case.
Just take a look at the reported ticket sales decline with Clemson football, winning all the time leaves fans with less to gripe about. We historically root for the underdog, thriving off of fighting back, being on the verge of a heart attack going into triple overtime with a team much better on paper than us, and winning after expending all of our efforts. I, for one, thrive off of our rival’s Twitter comments. Let them hate on us, bring all the negativity they can muster into 280 characters, I’m ready for it. Because when it comes time to face-off on game day, I’ll be ready to throw their words right back into their face (in a classier way of course) when we clean up.
Craving their disrespect is the largest aspect of rivalries that I, personally, buy into.
Nerdy Neural Evidence
If you aren’t interested in the riveting, yet, very nerdy neural imaging evidence for the love of rivalries, go ahead and skip down to my conclusion. If you’ve stuck around, you are about to have your mind blown (pun intended).
A study from 2011, done by Dr. Mina Cikara, explained exactly what happens in our brains when we watch rivalry games unfold before our eyes. Blood flow changes in the brain were recorded while participants watched one of a few scenarios. In the first scenario, when a participant witnessed their team playing well, flow to the pleasure center of the brain increased.
Equally as interesting, when the participant watched their rival play poorly, the same activity as above occurred. Here’s where things get really interesting, when watching your own team doing poorly, blood flow increases to the area of the brain responsible for emotional responses to pain.
Finally, when the participant watched their rival winning, even more activity is centered around the emotional pain area. Even our neurons despise our rivals. That brings a serious new meaning to “Bleeding Green.”
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Historically, our rivals push us to play better by playing their best. Without our rivalries, who would we be? Sure, that’s a stretch, we do still maintain our identity without them, but they really do bring out something special in all of us. There’s nothing quite like the buzzing of a rivalry week. So, keep secretly wanting to tell off your second cousin and proudly rooting for your “underdogs,” because it seems that we are all wired this way.
If you love the topic of the psychology behind sports check out This is Your Brain On Sports by L.Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers, which was the inspiration behind this article.