From the Wall Street Journal:
The Science of Hate in College Football What Makes Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State and Other Rivalries DifferentThis is my fifty-fifty rule in action: the harder something is to predict, the more we are interested in its outcome. (The flip side of this is why Science with a capital S isn’t better at predicting boring stuff, like when will the sun come up tomorrow or whether the black kids or the Asian kids will average higher on the test, than at predicting the really interesting stuff like #11 Arizona v. #13 Arizona St. (14-14 in the second quarter).
… The oomph in every rivalry, Kilduff said, comes from similarity, proximity and history. Auburn versus Alabama—an intrastate matchup of public universities that dates to 1893—could be a case study. His research also shows that sports rivalries are stronger when their historical records against each other are closer. As it happens, heading into Saturday’s games, Auburn-Alabama and Ole Miss-Mississippi State both are 18-16 since 1980 in favor of the former, while Ohio State leads Michigan, 17-16, with one tie.
Rice U.’s football team over the years went from a rival to a homecoming game opponent as its fortunes faded. It eventually went into a lesser conference away from natural but too formidable rivals like the University of Texas and Texas A&M, taking some of its weaker rivals with it.
Notre Dame, as an independent not weighed down by belonging to a conference, has constructed an entire schedule of traditional rivalries.
Israel’s foreign policy started out with a policy of making friends with “peripheral countries” such as Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia to balance off the enmity of neighbors. Over time, as local rivalries have turned into tedious walkovers in Gaza and the like, and other local rivals like Jordan and Egypt dropped out, and Iraq and Syria have now imploded, Israel has come to focus much of its rivalrous energies on distant Iran. And in recent years, Israel and Turkey appear to be laying the groundwork for a solid rivalry to emerge in the future.
… As expected, the die-hards were giddy when their teams made positive plays, which the researchers confirmed with activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain that correlates with pleasure. But the study was more revealing in people who felt greater aggression toward their rivals. The ventral striatum was engaged not only when their teams succeeded but also when their rivals failed—even against other teams. Cody Havard, a sports commerce professor at Memphis, calls this phenomenon “GORFing,” which is short for “glory out of reflected failure.”I wonder how many people are concentric in their loyalties, for example, after a hard fought League Championship Series between the New York Yankee and the Boston Red Sox, how many Yankee fans want the Red Sox to win the World Series because A. to suggest that the Yankees were the second best baseball team that year in all leagues; B. because the Red Sox are the closest thing to the Yankees left alive that postseason?
Rivalries also bring out emotions that fans would rather suppress. One group of Kentucky psychologists studied schadenfreude (pleasure from others’ misfortune) and gluckschmerz (displeasure from others’ good fortune) by having the region’s rabid basketball fans read articles about injured Duke players. In this study, the most obsessed Kentucky fans felt schadenfreude when Duke’s players were severely hurt and gluckschmerz when they recovered or the injuries were actually mild, according to a paper published in the journal Motivation and Emotion this month.
I tended to have very concentric loyalties regarding UCLA and USC. I decided to root for UCLA in 1965 when Gary Beban threw two 50 yardish touchdown passes in the last four minutes to defeat Mike Garrett’s Trojans. But if USC beat UCLA to go to the Rose Bowl, I routinely rooted for USC to beat the invader from the Big Ten in the Midwest. Similarly, in baseball, I rooted for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but if the Orange County California Angels made it to the post-season I would root for them too.
I can first recall my concentric loyalties during, I believe, the 1965 baseball All-Star Game while visiting my cousins in Minnesota, who were fans of the Minnesota Twins of the American League while I was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League. I was so worked up that I couldn’t stay in the room watching while the American League All-Stars were at bat. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself rooting for the National League All-Stars from the Dodgers’ hated NL rival the San Francisco Giants, even Juan Marichal.
I wonder how routine this pattern of concentric loyalties is versus the leapfrogging loyalties of wishing ill to the team that beat you? And I wonder whether these rival tendencies correlate with political attitudes?
My prejudice is that concentric loyalties are more reasonable and best for the world as a whole, but I think leapfrogging loyalties provide the prejudiced individual with a lot of personal advantages.