Us vs. Them
Sports can be all fun and games until they are not. Often times, people get into very heated arguments about it and may take it too seriously. It can go too far where die-hard fans engage in physical altercations that can lead to emergency room visits and the police are called. It is times like these where it is important to ask, why do they care so much?
Proud team supporters have developed an 'us versus them' mentality. They have already decided that they are different from the other teams and thus are better. Achieving group distinctiveness means to be unique with its successful establishment of their own identity and positive intergroup relations (Tajfel, 1981). The development of the ingroup (the group with which the person identifies) and outgroup (the group with which the person does not identify) are the precursors to Henri Tajfel's Social Identity Theory.
Social Identity Theory
According to social identity theory, it is because groups, like sports teams, are a significant source of pride and self-esteem. Supporters do not even need to contribute to the achievement of the group's goal in order to identify with them, instead they just have to agree with it and perceive themselves as part of the team (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). Another key aspect of social identity theory is internalizing the group's success and failures (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). For example, if a certain team won a game, then their supporters won the game, but if they lost, then their supporters also lost.
Self-Identification and the Ingroup vs. Outgroup Mentality
In a study conducted by Amiot et al., they examined group norms and the role of social identity processes to see if there was an increased self-determined motivation to engage in derogatory behaviours against an opposing team (1989).
They used online questionnaires to measure the participants' motivations to demonstrate derogatory behaviour against other supporters and members of outgroup teams, the self-reported frequency of engaging in this behaviour and the social identification as a supporter of their team.
This figure shows the descriptive statistics and correlations among all variables in the first study. There are positive associations between self-determination, social identification as a fan of their team, and a higher frequency of engaging in derogatory behaviour.
The results of this study indicate that the participants perceived strong ingroup norms to engage in derogatory behaviour. There was also a greater internalization of these norms. Those who strongly identified with their hockey team showed more self-determination and were more likely to act in a derogatory manner than those who did not identify as strongly.
The social identity theory has many implications on humans and their behaviour. It shows that their identity mainly comes from the group with which they associate and the ingroup norms within it. Further, it demonstrates that this 'us versus them' mentality can lead to antisocial behaviour, causing more intergroup conflict.
Amiot, C. E., Sansfaçon, S., & Louis, W. R. (2014). How normative and social identification processes predict self‐determination to engage in derogatory behaviours against outgroup hockey fans. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44(3), 216–230. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2006
Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social Identity Theory and the Organization. The Academy of Management Review, 14(1), 20–39. https://doi.org/10.2307/258189
Tajfel, H. (1982). Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Annual Review of Psychology, 33(1), 1–39. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.ps.33.020182.000245