Nautilus

The Unique Neurology of the Sports Fan’s Brain

Sports fans aren’t typically in the mood for academic research in the minutes before a big game. But Paul Bernhardt, an aspiring young behavioral scientist at Georgia State University, was determined. Armed with a bag of sterile vials, Bernhardt inched through the crowd at Atlanta’s Omni arena, politely asking anyone decked out in either University of Georgia or Georgia Tech basketball garb—the teams that were set to battle that evening—for a bit of saliva.

The year was 1991. Fans of the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets, the state’s two most renowned collegiate sports institutions, had been hating each other’s guts since 1893, a rivalry affectionately known as COFH: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. (Yes, sports rivalries can have names; COFH is historically significant enough to have a 5,000-plus word entry in Wikipedia with 50 citations.) Bernhardt wasn’t there to celebrate a century of feuding, however; he was hoping to break new ground on the scientific understanding of such fandemonium—“highly identified” fans would be the proper psychology term—to explain why being a sports nut, bitter hatred and all, feels soooo gooooood.

clean old-fashioned hate: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets bond over their shared hatred of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Scott Cunningham / Stringer / Getty Images

The fact that athletes experience a tidal rush of testosterone, a hormone

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus8 min readScience
Can New Species Evolve From Cancers? Maybe.
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Aggressive cancers can spread so fiercely that they seem less like tissues gone wrong and more like invasive parasites looking to consume and then break free of their host. If a wild
Nautilus6 min read
Butterfly Wonk Robert Pyle Pens His First Novel 44 Years in the Making
Last year marked a first for 71-year old Robert Michael Pyle, the acclaimed author, naturalist, and ecologist: the publication of his long-awaited first novel, Magdalena Mountain, nearly half a century in the making. Pyle has been investigating the b
Nautilus15 min read
How American Tycoons Created the Dinosaur: The story of dinosaurs is also the story of capitalism.
The dinosaur is a chimera. Some parts of this complex assemblage are the result of biological evolution. But others are products of human ingenuity, constructed by artists, scientists, and technicians in a laborious process that stretches from the di