Testing the Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model: Examining Non-Marquee Sports, Seasonal Differences, and Multiple Teams

Article excerpt

Within the last decade or so, the field of psychology has begun to experience a paradigm shift. This new vision, referred to as positive psychology, reflects the belief that the field of psychology has devoted too much empirical and theoretical effort toward understanding human maladjustments and shortcomings while investing too little time in understanding the positive aspects of the human experience, such as happiness and mental well-being (see Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Snyder & Lopez, 2001). This tendency to focus primarily on the darker sides of human existence also is reflected in the social scientific inquiry of sport fandom and spectating. Historically, investigators have spent a majority of their efforts researching the negative aspects of this pastime, choosing to focus on such topics as spectator violence, the poor interpersonal relationships of sport fans, and how sport can serve as an opiate to the masses (many of these attacks against fans have little empirical support, see Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001, for a review).

However, consistent with the positive psychology movement found in general psychology, sport scientists have recently begun to explore the positive side of sport fandom as well. One such line of research has investigated the relationship between sport fandom and psychological well-being. Research on this relationship has taken two directions. First, research indicates that fans may improve their self-concept (i.e., well-being) by basking in the reflected glory of a sport team's successes (Boen, Vanbeselaere, & Feys, 2002; Cialdini et al., 1976; Dalakas, Madrigal, & Anderson, 2004). Indeed, many fans choose to follow historically successful teams to have easier access to this route to enhanced well-being (End, Dietz-Uhler, Harrick, & Jacquemotte, 2002).

The focus of the current investigation concerns a second route to enhanced well-being through sport fandom. This path involves one's level of team identification. Team identification is defined as the extent to which a fan feels a psychological connection to his or her team (Wann & Branscombe, 1993; Wann et al., 2001). When individuals feel a strong sense of attachment to a group, they experience enhanced well-being because their association with the group leads to a sense of belongingness with others and a connection to society (Gibson, Willming, & Holdnak, 2002; Mael & Ashforth, 2001). Thus, this route to well-being is not dependent upon group or team success. Rather, individuals may gain a sense of belonging (and hence, well-being) simply through their group memberships. Recent work has confirmed this pattern of effects with sport fans and their sense of identification with their team. Specifically, high levels of identification with a local team have been found to be related to higher levels of personal and collective self-esteem, vigor, positive emotions, social life satisfaction, openness, and extroversion, and lower levels of depression, alienation, loneliness, and negative emotions (Branscombe &Wann, 1991; Lanter & Blackburn, 2004; Wann, 1994; Wann, 2006b; Wann, Dimmock, & Grove, 2003; Wann, Dunham, Byrd, & Keenan, 2004; Wann, Inman, Ensor, Gates, & Caldwell, 1999; Wann & Pierce, 2005; Wann, Walker, Cygan, Kawase, & Ryan, 2005).

Wann (2006a) recently developed a theoretical model to account for the aforementioned effects. This model, termed the Team Identification--Social Psychological Health Model, proposes that team identification facilitates well-being by increasing social connections for the fan. That is, by identifying with a team, a fan gains additional associations with others, connections that can be important in facilitating psychological well-being (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Linville, 1987). According to the model, two different forms of social connections can be acquired through sport team identification: enduring and temporary. …