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Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 59 – 62, 1998 © 1998 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A.

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Testosterone Changes During Vicarious Experiences of Winning and Losing Among Fans at Sporting Events
PAUL C. BERNHARDT,* JAMES M. DABBS, JR.,† JULIE A. FIELDEN† AND CANDICE D. LUTTER,† *University of Utah, Department of Educational Psychology, MBH 327, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; and †Georgia State University, Department of Psychology, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA Received 19 December 1997; Accepted 14 April 1998
BERNHARDT, P. C., J. M. DABBS, JR., J. A. FIELDEN, AND C. D. LUTTER. Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events. PHYSIOL BEHAV 65(1) 59 – 62, 1998.—Basking in reflected glory, in which individuals increase their self-esteem by identifying with successful others, is usually regarded as a cognitive process that can affect behavior. It may also involve physiological processes, including changes in the production of endocrine hormones. The present research involved two studies of changes in testosterone levels among fans watching their favorite sports teams win or lose. In the first study, participants were eight male fans attending a basketball game between traditional college rivals. In the second study, participants were 21 male fans watching a televised World Cup soccer match between traditional international rivals. Participants provided saliva samples for testosterone assay before and after the contest. In both studies, mean testosterone level increased in the fans of winning teams and decreased in the fans of losing teams. These findings suggest that watching one’s heroes win or lose has physiological consequences that extend beyond changes in mood and self-esteem. © 1998 Elsevier Science Inc. Testosterone Self-esteem Sports Spectators Fans BIRG

WHEN a sports team wins or loses an athletic contest, its fans respond much as the team athletes do: they bask in its glory and suffer in its defeat. If their team wins, they wear team colors the next day (4), talk about how “we” won (4,6,18), feel stronger (19) and more optimistic (17), and are prouder of themselves (10). If their team loses, the opposite happens, and fans feel defeated, depressed, and angry. These changes are cognitive and behavioral, they involving self-esteem, self-confidence, and a readiness to face the future. They may also be associated with physiological changes that support tendencies to compete or retreat, to become strong or vulnerable. The present paper focuses upon changes in the endocrine system, specifically in the hormone testosterone. Testosterone is central to sexual activity and male-male competition among animals. Among rhesus monkeys, testosterone both affects the outcome of a fight and is affected by the outcome. When two male monkeys fight, the one higher in testosterone is likely to win, and after the fight testosterone increases in the winner and decreases in the loser (1). Human males show similar patterns: testosterone levels in winners increase relative to losers in such physical contests as wrestling (9), martial arts (3), tennis (2), and in more cerebral contests, such as chess (14) and coin flips (12). Salvador, with others, found the winning record of fighters
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correlated positively with changes in testosterone that was observed during the contests (16). Other researchers found increased testosterone in the hours before a contest (2,3) and found that initial levels predicted the outcome of the contest (3). Mazur (13) has emphasized the link between testosterone and dominance. He suggests that rising testosterone levels are tied to expressions of dominance, where dominance may be revealed in changes in posture, eye contact, and assertive speech. Mazur and Lamb (15) demonstrated in a number of situations (such as graduation from medical school) that increases in status were correlated with increases in testosterone. Mazur (13) proposes a biosocial theory of status, in which success increases testosterone levels, and higher testosterone levels increase the likelihood of being successful in the future. Failure lowers testosterone levels, which reduces the likelihood of success in future contests. Kemper (11) has hypothesized that fans at sporting events would have testosterone changes similar to those seen in the participants. Fans who identify with a team will feel its success or failures as their own, giving rise in them to vicarious experiences of success or failure. He hypothesized, therefore, that the team’s success or failure should affect their testosterone levels, especially among fans who identify strongly with the team. Testosterone measurements are reliable, having a correlation of

To whom requests for reprints should be addressed. E-mail: Paul.Bernhardt@m.cc.utah.edu

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associated with the Brazilian American Society.65 between single measurements taken on adjacent days (7). 6) 9. F(1. predicting that fans whose team won would increase in testosterone relative to fans whose team lost. and the year of this study. Italian fans dropped out of participation more than Brazilian fans did. felt that their national honor was at stake. 2(1. We measured testosterone levels before and after the competition. The schools are traditional rivals. with team (winners versus losers) a betweensubjects factor and time (pre. within the normal range (7). 1991. using a radioimmunoassay with ether extraction.05. Fourteen fans were Italian or of Italian descent. The researchers collected saliva samples from each participant 30 –10 min before the game and again 15–25 min after the game. A questionnaire given to each fan showed that four supported each team. METHOD BERNHARDT ET AL. Both countries have a history of excellence in soccer. reflecting a total accumulated loss of participants during the study. best considered a pilot study. RESULTS was held in the United States for the first time. However. and the next day. Many fans. p 0. Method Participants were 26 male fans. not significant. 2(2. and they ranged in age from 20 – 42 years. 5) 8.21. Study 2: World Cup Soccer The second study extended the findings to a larger sample and used fans in separate locations. Measurements are also variable enough to change in response to external conditions. and saliva samples are easy to collect in a variety of naturalistic settings (8). F(1. examined testosterone changes among fans watching their favorite basketball team win or lose. the researcher circulated through the seating area in the arena and approached 15 males for participation in the study. when Brazil won on a penalty kick after the game had been played to a tie and an overtime had been played out with no one scoring. Matches were widely publicized. Samples were stored frozen and assayed in duplicate in a single batch. Testosterone can be assayed reliably from saliva. There was a significant team time interaction. recruited at two Atlanta taverns. Testosterone levels can begin to increase in less than 20 min. We were unable to attend an actual game. The present paper reports two studies of testosterone levels among sports fans watching their favorite teams in competition with traditional rivals. We analyzed the scores using repeated measures analysis of variance. FIG. Participants were fans at an annual contest between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.85. ensuring that the crowd would not be dominated by fans from one school.86. [Analysis of postgame difference via an ANCOVA. The findings are summarized in Fig. Samples were stored frozen and assayed in duplicate in a single batch. not significant. 1. yields similar results. Eleven initially participated but three failed to leave a post game sample. making them suitable for following changes around sporting events. .3 ng/dL (SD 2. This normal diurnal decline needs to be considered in designing research. the game was played at a neutral site. n 37) 3. with pregame level as the covariate.32. This left eight male participants. with the University of Georgia winning in the final few seconds. gathered at a pizzeria on a patio that was set aside for viewing the game. ranging in age from 21– 40 years. After the game the participant collected a second sample and either gave it to the researcher or left it at his seat for the researcher. Four refused to participate. Two researchers arrived at each establishment about 1 h before the game and began to recruit participants. The researcher took the sample and gave the participant a second vial and piece of gum to keep during the game.versus postgame) a within-subjects factor. The decline over time was greater among Italians than Brazilians. After the game they gave participants vials and gum to take home and asked them to collect saliva samples when they arose the next morning and mail them to us. as indicated by the studies above.94. fans chewed gum and deposited saliva into a plastic vial. During the hour before the game.62. Fans were offered $10 each to participate (Brazilian fans donated their funds to the Brazilian American Society). p 0. The outcome of the final match remained uncertain until the last moment.71. but the overall pattern was not statistically significant. did show a significant difference between the two groups. not significant. The game turned out to be a close one.60 about r 0. 1. Study 1: College Basketball The first study.5 ng/dL (SD 3. As in the basketball study. n 59) 4. 6) 0. Twelve fans were Brazilian or of Brazilian descent.05. RESULTS Mean testosterone scores were 6. the contrast between participation before the game and participation the next day. In 1994. Each participant chewed a stick of sugar-free gum to stimulate the flow of saliva and deposited 3 mL of saliva into a 20-mL polyethylene vial. so we studied fans watching the televised broadcast of the final match of the tournament between Brazil and Italy.05. reflecting an increase in testosterone among winning fans and a decrease among losing fans. Participation declined over the three points in time. p 0. F(1. especially the fans of foreign teams. and charcoal separation (7). nor between the two points in time. There was no significant mean difference between the two teams. 125 I–Testosterone tracer.] The partial 2 effect size for this interaction was 0. the World Cup of Soccer Table 1 shows the number of fans who provided samples before the game. and gathered to watch the match at a sports bar. 6) 0.7) before the game and 6. F(1.0) after the game. and fans displayed remarkable fervor. typically dropping 30%– 40% from early morning to late evening. All samples were collected within 15 min of the end of the game. Testosterone levels decline across the day (7). after the game. Basketball fans’ testosterone levels before and after their team has won or lost.

or behavior in ways that set one up to Brazilian Italian 12 14 12 10 9 2 * After game sample includes one participant whose sample was not usable. (13. ns. Mean testosterone scores were 7.19) 0. Italy and Brazil have long histories of excellence in World Cup soccer. which decreases the likelihood of approaching and winning the next encounter. yields similar results. (5) argues that fans feel involved in a contest and bask in the reflected glory of a win because the win boosts their self-esteem. avoiding the repeated confrontations that could debilitate both winner and loser without producing a meaningful change in their relationships. Self-esteem maintenance theory predicts we will like or dislike others. Because there were so few saliva samples from the second day.14) treats testosterone as a physiological aspect of the interaction between competition and status. [Analysis of postgame difference via an ANCOVA. they were very much involved in the contests. and they seemed to gain positive feelings from seeing their teams win. F(1. The results of these studies suggest these factors may also moderate hormonal responses among fans. The dejection among Italian fans and enthusiasm among Brazilian fans might possibly be due to testosterone changes. Similarly. The process is adaptive to both parties because it helps resolve ongoing conflict quickly. and be proud or envious of their success.42. There was a significant team time interaction. 18) 15. we analyzed the scores using repeated measures ANOVA. thereby perpetuating a status difference produced by the first encounter. p 0. The theory emphasizes: 1) psychological closeness. Cialdini et al. Testing the remaining portion of his proposition. Basking in reflected glory is part of an over-arching process in which we maintain our self-esteem through comparing ourselves to others. we limited our analysis of testosterone scores to samples collected on the day of the game. but they are also incomplete. We have no evidence that our fans were low in self-esteem.] The partial 2 effect size for this interaction was .25. The University of Georgia and Georgia Tech are traditional rivals. rather than building up gradually during the game. depending upon their relevance to our self-images (20). Soccer fans’ testosterone levels before and after their team has won or lost. but may not be the extent of testosterone effects. but it is not clear how much involvement is needed for the observed testosterone changes to take place. FIG. In particular. and rivalry among countries competing in World Cup soccer is intense. within the normal range. Brazilian fans were exuberant. suggesting an avenue for further research. Our findings also bear upon the idea that changes in testosterone level in competitive encounters are adaptive. nor between the two points in time. 19) 1. researchers observed a striking difference in mood between the two groups: Italian fans were despondent. Fans viewed the soccer match on television with an excited and festive manner. demeanor.3 ng/dL (SD 2. and time (pre. F(1. The greater failure of Italian fans to provide samples the next day suggests that mood changes after a contest is much more than just a fleeting change. sports spectatorship being one possible way to attain those surges (11). A feeling of involvement is probably essential for basking in reflected glory to take place. As in the basketball study.01. 2) relevance to one’s self-definition. 2.TESTOSTERONE CHANGES IN SPORTS FANS TABLE 1 SOCCER FANS AND STAGE OF DATA COLLECTION Collection Occasion Before Game After Game* Next Morning† 61 Because the outcome of each game was not determined until the last few seconds. It might affect posture. not significant. with team (winners versus losers) a between-subjects factor. .01. There was no significant mean difference between the two teams.38. and 3) performance of the other persons. 2. † Samples collected the next morning were not included in the analysis of testosterone scores. However. with a single encounter.versus postgame) a withinsubjects factor. The biosocial theory articulated by Mazur et al.05. testosterone levels increased among fans of winning teams and decreased among fans of losing teams. Success in competition leads to an increase in status and an increase in testosterone. The link between self-esteem and the effects of winning and losing on testosterone levels deserves further exploration. After the game. this effect was likely sudden. One postgame Italian sample was contaminated with blood and could not be used. F (1. DISCUSSION In both studies. p 0.5) before the game and 7. that these surges result in contentment with the social order. F(1. 19) 13. Kemper offers that periodic testosterone surges in individuals are important for maintaining stable social order. leaving us with 12 Brazilian and 9 Italian fans before and after the game. The findings are consistent with a biosocial model. that testosterone surges do occur in winning fans. reflecting an increase in testosterone among winners and a decrease among losers. with pregame level as the covariate.8) after the game.7 ng/dL (SD 3. Our findings bring together processes of social cognition and physiology. failure leads to a drop in status and a drop in testosterone.01. The results support a portion of his proposition. The findings are summarized in Fig. These contests were particularly meaningful to fans and might reasonably be expected to produce strong effects. The effect among winning fans was strong enough to reverse the normal pattern of decline in testosterone levels across the day. is certainly possible via the techniques used for these studies. Higher testosterone levels increase the likelihood of approaching and winning the next encounter. They tell us little about the effects of changes in testosterone.

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