Do people seem happier at sporting events? There’s a growing body of research that suggests they are. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any drawbacks. Scientific evidence points to increased blood pressure for some spectators as they root on their favorite sports team. One study revealed that testosterone levels actually drop for spectators when the team they’re rooting for loses. However, there are some incredible mental health benefits associated with being a spectator of sports, suggesting that fan effect psychology offers sports fans something else to cheer about.
Sporting Events Fandemonium
Many televised sports events that draw large crowds like football, baseball, soccer, and wrestling certainly lack the calm of a yoga studio. Fans might arrive at the games with faces painted in the colors of their team. Cameras might catch fans in the stands arguing with one another or shouting at referees and team players, with what can only be construed as anger on their faces. Sporting events can–and do–cause some people’s blood pressure to rise. Some fans take losses so seriously that their moods are negatively affected. There’s no doubt that there are some perceived negatives associated with sports viewing. But, could all the hoopla and drama be part of the fun? An examination of sports fan psychology reveals some worthwhile benefits of watching sports.
Three Cheers for Dopamine
When it comes to hobbies and pastimes, it’s not necessarily what people do; it’s that doing something enjoyable causes the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that plays various roles. One of these roles is to enhance mood. When people head out to the ball game or take a seat at a tennis match and enjoy the experience, the brain is flooded with dopamine. So, while it’s not uncommon to see grimacing faces at a sporting event, it’s far more likely that people will encounter smiles. Win or lose, most people enjoy the pastime of being a spectator at a sporting event.
More Benefits of Watching Sports
While season tickets and the high cost of concession snacks might not benefit a person’s budget, the mental health benefits associated with watching sports may be worth the cost, upon further investigation:
Watching Sports Makes You Smarter
Can watching a football or soccer game really make a person smarter? According to research, it can. Following a sporting event requires mental focus. Some experts suggest that watching a game, especially a complex game, is exercise for the brain. Scientists have monitored brain energy in people who watch sporting events and have found better information comprehension and even better organization skills.
A study at the University of Chicago found that people who watch sports, even televised sports, show improved neural connections that are related to linguistic abilities and comprehension. In short, they found that spectators’ “brains light up” with neural activity when watching high-energy sports like hockey. This research has proven to be valuable for brain research in general as it uncovered that brain flexibility in adults is more elastic than previously believed.
Being a spectator can increase dopamine levels in the brain, but that’s not all. Being a spectator can reduce the risk for developing depression. While consistent dopamine levels can help ward off depression, there are other aspects associated with watching sports that may help guard against depression too. For instance, people often attend sporting events with a loved one or close friends. The bonding that they enjoy fosters a sense of well-being, and that, too, is a protection against depression and anxiety. Socializing reduces many of the symptoms of depression, like isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Sense of Community
Fans at sporting events also benefit psychologically by the feeling of community that is enjoyed between fans of the game or of a particular team. People at a game experience positive social interactions with people from different walks of life. They come together over their shared love for a team. This sense of community also bolsters their feeling of well-being. They experience a range of positive emotions that help them take a mental break from any problems they may be dealing with in life. Feeling part of a large community can make people feel a sense of belonging that may be missing in other aspects of their lives like work or their neighborhood. A sense of community can support a healthy mental outlook.
Don’t Dismiss the Pitfalls
Sports fans must remember that watching a sporting event is not all roses. There are some pitfalls to watch out for. Taking a game too seriously can backfire as people could wind up feeling more stressed out than they did before they tuned in. People who have high blood pressure should also be mindful about sports events and the risk they could pose for increasing blood pressure. Games that are nail biters can be exciting, but that excitement can cause undue stress. It’s important to keep the mental focus on “fun” and not to take bad plays too seriously.
Many fitness experts also worry that too much time watching sports detracts from the time that a person might spend being active and working on their own fitness plan. Moreover, there’s a real connection between watching sports and eating/ drinking. Sporting concessions brim with unhealthy foods. A person who is recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol may also find that the environment of a sporting event is not conducive to recovery because it places them in close proximity to alcohol and to people drinking alcohol.
Finally, while sporting events can and generally do nurture a sense of community, they have also led to many violent events in countries around the world. Rioting has occurred after major sporting events like championship games. Violent confrontations between fans have also occurred. Especially heated games can promote negative emotions in spectators, and that can have unfortunate outcomes like arguments and physical fights.
Depending on a person’s current mental health state, watching sports may or may not be advantageous. FHE Health provides patients with an in-depth psychiatric assessment and helps them determine what types of activities can support their mental health needs. In many cases, of course, watching sports is mentally beneficial for individuals who can keep the potential negatives at bay.