Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Spring, 1998

Social Identity Theory: Sports Affiliation and Self-Esteem
Merritt Posten


"The Packers are like your children. You don’t love them because they’re good. You love them because they’re YOURS. " Packers fan, Steve Gay

    Why do people become so fanatic about a sports team? They buy the jerseys, pay the money for the tickets, collect, buy and trade sports cards? It can even become a aslogo6.jpg (5194 bytes)fantasy where fans can pick their own players and create their own teams. The social identity theory, when applied to sports fans, helps to explain their behavior. The social identity theory states that people are motivated to behave in ways that maintain and boost their self esteem. Having high self esteem is typically a perception of oneself as attractive, competent, likable and morally good person. These attributes make the person more attractive to the outside social world and making it more desirable for others to be in positive relationships with them. [Logo courtesy of AllSports]

        Without self esteem and the positive aspects that it brings into a person’s life, a person feels alone and this isolation causes deep anxiety. Sports can work to increase self-esteem for a person by association and affiliation. By wearing the teams colors, attending every game, and knowing all the players’ names, positions and stats, a fans begin to feel as if they are an integral part of the team. Therefore, when a team does well, they feel high self esteem in connection with their team’s victory. They connect with the team as if they were playing the game themselves.

    This connection that fans develop towards their team is a type of ingroup favoritism97fish.gif (11253 bytes) that helps a person develop a social identity by attaching themselves and attaining group membership in a group that has value and significance to them (Tajfel 1972). The fan then seeks to join and retain membership in those groups that have the most potential for contributing positively to his or her identity, and therefore strengthening their own self esteem. The research done by Lee (1985) clearly demonstrated the effect of self esteem and its connection to group identification. The study consisted of male undergraduates who were asked questions on university related questionnaire, and then after they were told their score, they were asked to describe a favorable or unfavorable basketball game. Those that did well on the questionnaire showed more affiliation to their own university team than those that did poorly. Different strategies were used by each of the groups to either maintain or boost self-esteem.

    Even when a team looses, the social identity theory states that a person will still view the team just as positively because of the threat a defeat has to his or her own self esteem, now that the person has identified with the team. If the person is loosely connected, the impression management techniques of BIRGing and CORFing (Basking in Reflected Glory and Cutting Off Reflected Failure) can be used. But if the fan is closely linked, the social identity theory further states that an individual will, in the face of defeat, still view their team just as positively.

    This phenomena, of viewing a person’s favorite team just as positively after a defeat,photo5.jpg (13989 bytes) is due to the biases and discriminating behaviors a person has against the other teams, and he or she will attribute a loss or defeat to external cues rather than to their own team. A "true" fan will then find reason to explain the team’s loss and place the blame everywhere besides the team itself. The Packer Haters Club offers many great examples of these attribution strategies and the sheer number of responses shows how deeply rooted some fans identities are in their teams success or failure. A fan will stop a nothing to defend his or her favorite or home team. One quote in particular stands out, "The Packers are like your children. You don’t love them because they’re good. You love them because they’re yours. "-Packers fan, Steve Gay.

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Ingroup/Outgroup Bias Social Identity Theory BIRGing and CORFing Deindividuation

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 23:11:03 . This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 Jan 1998. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman