Spectators' Evaluations of Rival and Fellow Fans

By Wann, Daniel L.; Dolan, Thomas J. | The Psychological Record, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Spectators' Evaluations of Rival and Fellow Fans


Wann, Daniel L., Dolan, Thomas J., The Psychological Record


A great deal of research has indicated that sports fans are biased in their evaluations and attributions concerning their teams. Hastorf and Cantril (1954), as well as Mann (1976) and Wann and Dolan (in press), all found support for the success/failure bias in sports. This bias is exhibited by spectators internalizing the successes of their team while externalizing their failures. Although other research has found less support for the success/failure bias (e.g., Grove, Hanrahan, & McInman, 1991), biases were still documented on domains such as stability and controllability. Other research examining the biased evaluations of spectators has found that fans give biased evaluations of past, present, and future team performance (Hirt, Zillmann, Erickson, & Kennedy, 1992; Wann & Dolan, 1994). These effects were intensified with increases in levels of identification with the team.

Although the biased team-directed perceptions of sports fans were well documented, research had not examined spectators' evaluations of other fans. That is, the various factors influencing spectators' perceptions of various other sports fans, both rival outgroup fans rooting for a different team and fellow ingroup fans supporting the same team, were unknown. Such an examination was the focus of the current investigation. It was predicted that fans would show a bias toward persons supporting their team. That is, spectators were expected to give the most positive evaluations to other fans supporting the home team while giving more negative evaluations to spectators rooting for a rival team. This hypothesis was based on research on social identity theory finding an ingroup bias in the allocation of rewards (Brewer, 1979), social evaluations (Gerald & Hoyt, 1974), and behavioral expectancies (Howard & Rothbart, 1980). As discussed by social identity theorists such as Tajfel (1981) and Turner (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), people are motivated to protect and maintain a positive social identity and, as a result, exhibit intense reactions to viewing their groups in competition. However, fans should not all be equal in their tendencies to report biased evaluations of fellow fans. Rather, it was predicted that a significant spectator bias would only be reported by persons high in identification with the team. Indeed, recent research has found that the most extreme responses to sports competition are exhibited by highly identified fans. This finding has been documented in a variety of areas including emotional reactions (Hirt et al., 1992; Wann & Branscombe, 1992; Wann, Dolan, McGeorge, & Allison, in press), aggression (Branscombe & Wann, 1992a; Simons & Taylor, 1992), arousal (Branscombe & Wann, 1992b), and tendencies to alter associations with the team (Wann, 1993, Wann & Branscombe, 1990). Low identified spectators are less reactive to competition outcomes because the role of team follower is only minimally relevant to their social identity and as such has only a negligible impact (Crocker & Major, 1989; Harter, 1986). Thus, a two-way interaction involving level of identification and target spectator was predicted. This prediction was tested by having spectators, varying in allegiance to a local college basketball team, read about another spectator (described as either a fan of the university's team or a rival team) who commits several aggressive and hostile acts directed toward a referee.

Method

Pretesting

To determine the greatest rival of the local college basketball team (Murray State University), 40 undergraduates were asked to list the school which, in their opinion, was Murray State's greatest rival. These subjects listed a total of 12 different schools. Eastern Kentucky University (a fellow NCAA Ohio Valley Conference member) was listed as the greatest rival of the Murray team (25% of the respondents). Only one other school (Austin Peay State University, 22%) received a score higher than 10%. …

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