How Does Sport Team Identification Compare to Identification with Other Social Institutions?

By Smith, Shelley E.; Grieve, Frederick G. et al. | Journal of Contemporary Athletics, April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

How Does Sport Team Identification Compare to Identification with Other Social Institutions?


Smith, Shelley E., Grieve, Frederick G., Zapalac, Ryan K., Derryberry, W. Pitt, Pope, Jacqueline, Journal of Contemporary Athletics


INTRODUCTION

In general, people have a need to affiliate with others, and they spend a great deal of time with others in pursuit of this goal (Buunk, Zurraiga, Peiro, Nauta, and Molleman, 2005). They desire to form affiliations with others because they "classify themselves and others into social groups as a means of ordering the social environment and locating their place within it" (Mael and Ashforth, 2001, p. 198). Furthermore, people experience benefits, such as improved self-esteem, a feeling of belongingness, and increased ambitions, when they form relationships, or identify, with other people and groups (Mael and Ashforth, 2001).

Group identification is defined as the perceived oneness and belongingness an individual feels within a group of persons (Ashforth and Mael, 1989). Identification has been examined in a number of different contexts, including identification with a sport team (Wann, 2006a; Wann, 2006b; Wann, 2006c), religion (Diener and Clifton, 2002; Diener, Suh, Lucas, and Smith, 1999; Ryan, Rigby, and King, 1993), occupation/employment (Haughey, 1993; Waters and Moore, 2002), and social group involvement (Argyle, 1999). Individuals value identification with social groups for the benefits it provides, such as psychological support (Wann, 2006c), enhanced self-esteem, and a sense of meaning in life (Mael and Ashforth, 2001).

While several researchers have examined individuals' levels of identification within different groups, no research has been performed that compares the identification formed among different groups in one's life to one another. For example, the identification one forms with a sport team has not been previously compared with the same individual's identification with his or her place of employment.

The purpose of the present study is to begin an evaluation of identification in order to develop a better understanding of the type of group with which individuals form the strongest identification. Identification with different social groups has been shown to have different benefits, depending on the group.

Sport team identification involves "a fan's psychological connection to a team" (Wann, 2006b, p. 332). Sport fandom is increasingly popular. A 2005Gallup Poll found that 63% of Americans claim to be sports fans (Carroll, 2005). Individuals identify with a sport team for a variety of reasons, including distraction from daily events (Mael and Ashforth, 2001), being part of a larger social group composed of other fans of the same team in order to decrease loneliness and isolation (Wann, 2006b), and gaining a sense of achievement by categorizing a team's accomplishment as their own (Ashforth and Mael, 1989).

Research has indicated that identifying with a sport team has a number of benefits. These include social connectedness with other fans of the team (Wann, 2006b), higher levels of self-esteem (Wann, 1994), decreased levels of depression (Branscombe and Wann, 1991), better psychological adjustment (Wann, 2006c), and a vicarious sense of achievement (Mahony, Nakazawa, Funk, James, Gladden, 2002).

Religious identification can occur in two ways: by forming an identification with a religious deity and by forming a bond with a group of people who have similar value systems (Mael and Ashforth, 2001). Some have argued that "religious identification is the most compelling or understandable form of identification" (Mael and Ashforth, 2001, p. 208) because religious loyalty is believed to be the strongest form of loyalty people can have. A Gallup poll found that approximately eight of every ten Americans report that they identify with some form of religion (Newport, 2007).

These numbers may be misleading, however, because responses on a separate question within the same poll indicated that only 44% of Americans attend church on a regular basis. This difference indicates that, while many Americans indicate that they belong to a religious group, they do not necessarily spend time involved in the activities associated with that religion. …

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