Super Bowl Sunday: The Social Psych Perspective

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Image from AZSuperbowl

About a third to a half of America’s population tunes in to the Super Bowl every year. That may not seem surprising, but the wildly popular American Idol only pulled in about 30 million viewers in its best years. A huge amount to be sure, but it pales in comparison to the Super Bowl’s 110 million (give or take).* Social psychologists may not be surprised about the popularity of the Super Bowl, given our tendency to invest ourselves deeply in sports.

In a famous study at Ohio State University, Robert Cialdini and colleagues found that students wore OSU clothing more following a win than after a loss.1 They also noticed that people were more likely to use “we” language (i.e. “we won”) when the team performed well, and were more likely to use “they” language when the team performed poorly (i.e. “they lost”).1 This phenomenon is often referred to as Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) and Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing).2 However, there is some evidence that die-hard fans may not engage in CORFing, suggesting they have more dedication to the team.3

So enjoy those wings, call some couch plays and no matter the outcome (***cough, cough*** Patriots win ***cough, cough***), don’t be a fair-weather fan!

*EDIT-on a good year! These stats do include worldview viewership, but worldwide viewership is notoriously low

  1. Cialdini, R. B., Borden, R. J., Thorne, R. J., Walker, M. R., Freeman, S., & Sloan, L. R. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 34, 366-375.
  1. Cialdini, R. B., & De Nicholas, M. E. (1989). Self-presentation by association. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 57, 626-631.
  1. Sloan, L. R. (1979). “The function and impact of sports for fans: A review of theory and contemporary research.” Pp.219-262 in J. H. Goldstein (00.), Sports, games, and play: Social and psychological viewpoints. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

10 thoughts on “Super Bowl Sunday: The Social Psych Perspective

    • Thanks for your comment! The Super Bowl is not very popular outside of the US, with estimates in the 1-2 million range outside of North America. But you’re definitely right that numbers include viewers outside of the US! We don’t want to ignore our international readers here at SocialPsyQ! Thanks for helping to clarify this!

      Also, last Super Bowl only drew in around 110 million viewers, which would reflect about a third of Americans (accounting for about 10 million non-American viewers). Let’s hope this year it’s more exciting!


  1. Pingback: Broaden, Build, and Shine: Supporting female networks! | Social PsyQ

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