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October 7, 2018
by Patricia Tomasi

Are You Watching The Same Football Game As Your Rival? New Study Says Yes and No

October 7, 2018 08:00 by Patricia Tomasi  [About the Author]

Now that football season is in full swing, many fans will be glued to their television sets and mobile devices watching the games and engaging in friendly rivalries. According to Statista, 70 per cent of Americans surveyed considered themselves fans of football.

We'll all be watching the same games, but will we be seeing the same thing?

Ever wonder how fans of one team might disagree completely with what fans of a rival team saw, even though they both saw the exact same game?

Europeans call soccer - football. Like the U.S., Europeans love their 'football'. Both are die-hard fans of their beloved sport. According to Nielson Sports, 46 per cent of people around the world are soccer fans and 20 per cent of the world’s population participates in the sport. Spain is the number one country in the world with the most interest in soccer. The United Kingdom ranks first among European countries when it comes to actually participating in the sport.

An interesting English study just published in the journal, Cerebral Cortex, used die-hard European football fans and MRI technology to help researchers determine why both sets of rival fans can come out with different opinions on the same match.

For instance, while Colombia fans started a petition for what they say as unfair bias towards their team in the 2018 World Cup, England fans were complaining about a high number of fouls in the same match against Colombia.

“It is well known that the way we see the world is influenced by others, particularly by the social groups we belong to,” study author, Professor Tim Andrews from the University of York told us. “This influences the way we interpret events and our opinions of others. In other words, we see the world in different ways.”

Researchers compared the brain activity of Manchester United fans and Chelsea fans during a soccer match. The participants had to have been fans for 15 years and have seen at least 25 games. They asked supporters of Manchester United and Chelsea to watch a movie of games between the two teams.  Researchers then looked at different regions of the brain and asked whether the brain response to the movie was more similar in supporters from the same group.

Researchers found that though the two sets of fans both see the same game visually, there were differences in higher regions of the brain that have to do with cognition, causing the fans to interpret the game differently.

However, it is not clear whether the 'see' in this context means seeing as in the sensory processes in vision or seeing as in understanding. Researchers believe using two groups of football supporters watching games between their teams seemed an ideal way to test this fundamental issue in psychology and neuroscience.

 “We found that the response in sensory areas of the brain, particularly those involved in vision/seeing were very similar across all individuals,” Andrews told us. “However, regions in frontal and subcortical regions showed group differences.”

These regions have been shown to be important for reward and social cognition.  In other words, the brain regions that showed group differences are involved in the evaluation and interpretation of the input.

“I didn't have a strong feeling about how the results were going to turn out,” Andrews told us. “However, I was somewhat surprised that we didn't find any effects in the sensory regions.”

Andrews believes the findings show that a variety of cognitive processes are important in the establishment of social groups and that it will be interesting to find out whether similar results are evident for other social groups.

About the Author

Patricia Tomasi

Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog:

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