COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With the Super Bowl only hours away, America is sure to see a boom in Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots fan population. But such signs of devotion might say more about people's self-esteem than their team loyalty, a Texas A&M University sports psychologist says.
These would be "fair-weather fans," easily identifiable by their shiny new jerseys, T-shirts and caps.
While not everyone cheering for the Pats or the Cats falls into this category, many of the fans who are flocking to the stores to outfit themselves in full Panther and Patriot regalia are doing so in an effort to be associated with a winner.
Psychologist Arnold LeUnes says many people feel the need to identify with a winning team in an effort to feel good about themselves.
"People are drawn to sports and are fans of it for a number of reasons, but a big part of it has to do with self-esteem," LeUnes says.
Part of a person's positive self-image comes from identifying with success, he says. Affiliating oneself with a particular team and identifying with that team is a reflection of this desire to be associated with winners, he explains.
That self-esteem is tied to people's fandom is particularly evidenced, LeUnes notes, in the phenomenon psychologists refer to as BIRG, which stands for Basking in the Reflected Glory.
"After a team's big win, it's very common to see people wearing the paraphernalia -- jerseys, T-shirts, caps -- of that team," he says.
In contrast and as a matter of self-esteem regulation, fans typically disassociate themselves from their team after a loss in subtle but noticeable ways, LeUnes notes.
This is not just apparent by the lack of team apparel being worn, but also in the way fans choose to talk about their team, he says.
"After their team wins, fans will often emphasize their affiliation with the team by using phrases such as 'we won the football game 28-0,' but after a loss, fans disassociate themselves by using phrases like 'they just couldn't get the job done,' " he says.
When looked at in the context of self-esteem regulation, it's not hard to understand why a particular team's successes or failures can have a wide range of effects on its fans, LeUnes notes.
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