Rival sports fans experience the same game completely differently, a new study says.

Shoutouts to all our diehard fans out there. If you’re a diehard fan of ‘Factionary Football Club,’ (FFC) — yes that’s a thing — then chances are you’ve ever had at least one terrible night watching our guys suffer a defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals. Even worse, the other side probably racked up a number of fouls that the officiators never said a word about. And neither did your lousy neighbors, who root for the other side. Were they even watching the same game? Well, yes — and no.

Related media: Colombia v England – 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – Match 56


My Game Is Fair Play

At the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, England came up against Columbia in a round of 16 match. The ‘Three Lions’ Of England won the day in one of the most controversial games in World Cup history. It seems the English fans were not impressed, though. Over 250,000 Columbian fans signed a petition calling out the officiators’ obvious bias and tendency to award penalty kicks to England, ultimately costing them the game. On the other team, the English fans were also against their rivals tactical play during the game. Their complaint? The Columbians didn’t play fair. We guess you’re aware that’s FIFA’s campaign for all international football competitions, “My game is fair play.”

So what actually happened?

Were the English the beneficiary of biased officiating, and were eager to call unfair play in their favor? Or was it their rivals — the Colombians playing unfair and happened to suffer their own silly tactics?


What Happened To The Game?

As a matter of fact, what really happened is what FIFA would like to avoid in Qatar 2022, and this is not the first time such an incident has occurred. It plays itself every day in virtually every sporting discipline. It could be a matter of fact that fans on either side of the Atlantic could have apparently be watching the same game and had different experiences as well.

In a 2018 study, psychologist Timothy Andrews and his team psychologists wanted to understand why members of certain groups — like sports team fandoms — visually experience the world as it relates to their relevant experience. All they needed was some Manchester United fans, some Chelsea fans, a highlight reel of the teams playing each other, and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine.


Different Teams, Same Game, Different Results

We’ll all agree that there’s always a huge tension between the Manchester United – Chelsea derby, so no wonder it was the researchers choice of study. So it holds to reason that the fans of either team would have very different experiences about the highlights reel that the researchers put together, which featured both teams getting the better of each other at different times.

The fans of both teams had their brains scanned in an MRI machine while they were watching to the reel. The regions of their brains associated with visual perception largely matched up with each other. What that means is that, their eyes were processing the same exact data — they were certainly seeing the same highlights.

They felt very differently about it — though they were witnessing the same highlights. The frontal and subcortical regions of their brains, which are associated with reward, identity, and movement control, were about as different as the visual cortices were the same. The greatest difference was in the nucleus accumbens, which is central to the brain’s reward system.

Interestingly, fans of rival teams would experience opposite responses in their nucleus accumbens, whereas fans of the same team experience similar responses about as well as the visual areas responses across the board. It’s an important lesson in how group dynamics and in-group bias form in the brain, even as we all see the same events play out in the real world.


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Mar 02, 2019.

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