My daughters and I are fans of the Arizona State University Lady Sun Devils basketball team (or maybe it’s the cotton candy and jalapeno nachos that keep us going back). At the last game we attended, I started thinking about why people root for their favorite teams. Robert Cialdini, in his insightful book, Influence, describes it this way:
We want our affiliated sports teams to win to prove our own superiority, but to whom…? Ourselves, certainly, but to everyone else, too. According to the association principle, if we can surround ourselves with success that we are connected with in even a superficial way…our public prestige will rise.
This explains those acquaintances that, lacking any justifiable connection, annoyingly claim a life-long allegiance to the New York Yankees, Miami Heat, Manchester United Red Devils or whatever other team is currently at the top of the heap.
Cialdini’s observations apply equally well to other “teams” we affiliate with, e.g., iPhone owners, Democratic Party members, Gangnam Style dancers, etc.).
And what does Cialdini say about hardcore fans who take their allegiances a bit too seriously?
Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others’ attainments.
So I say enjoy watching sports, root for your teams (and flaunt your image-boosting products and associations) and embrace the universality of it all. But if you’re a fanatic, look in the mirror and consider whether you should be tending to your own self instead.
Go Lady Sun Devils!