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Mass Psychology and Sports

Sports Riots: The Psychology of Fan Mayhem

by Brian Handwerk, National Geographic News

The images are familiar: Screaming fans. Broken glass. A dangerous mob. And, too often, tragedy. Why is it that major sporting events, such as baseball’s World Series, the NCAA men’s basketball championship, or even the NBA Finals, can provoke acts of mob mayhem?

“Fans become passionate about their team and try to find personal satisfaction in their team’s wins,” said Allyce Najimy, senior associate director at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.
“You add the adrenaline, the alcohol that’s often being consumed and in a highly charged atmosphere things tend to set people off more than they would in a calmer environment,” she said.

When we’re less accountable we tend to behave in ways we wouldn’t,” he said. “If I’m among thousands of celebrating people and I were to throw a beer bottle against a brick wall, you’d have a hard time picking me out.

Researchers like Najimy are striving to decode the psychology of rioting sports fans and determine how to prevent outbreaks of group violence.
Fans Get Loud, Proud

Christian End, an expert in sport fan behavior at Xavier University in Cincinatti, Ohio, notes that the environment at major sporting events allows, and even encourages, many behaviors well outside the norm.

“Face painting, at the stadium, is socially acceptable,” the psychologist said. “People yell things that they definitely wouldn’t be yelling in the boardroom or if their name and home phone number were available.”…

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