The stadium is shaking. Tens of thousands of screaming fans are out of their seats, stomping their feet and pumping their arms in victory. Meanwhile, you're at home, shouting as loudly as you can with a few buddies. As the game ends, you leap off the couch and yell, "We did it!"
If you stop to think about it, you might say you're using "we" to mean your team, your city or the team's fans as a whole. But let's be real: There's probably also a small part of you that's referring to yourself and your friends, as though your cheers were the deciding factor in the game.
We all know that the little people in the TV can't hear us, regardless of how much or how loudly we yell. But that doesn't stop some sports fans from believing their cheers make a difference. Many fans hold on to the belief that their (vocal) participation is critical to their beloved team's success or failure. It's the same logic behind other seemingly absurd fan superstitions, from the importance of sitting in the same "lucky" seat to wearing dirty socks during a winning streak. (So that's why your living room smells like sweaty feet…) According to a 2013 study of college students, over 40 percent of those surveyed held one or more sports-related superstitions. And the more heavily invested those sports fans were in a team, the more likely they were to believe their efforts matter.
Daniel Wann, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Murray State University in Kentucky and one of the coauthors of the study, says fans feel compelled to make their voices heard, whether or not the players can hear them. "The person in the first row isn't yelling any more, or any louder, than the person in the back row, and they [both] cognitively know that," says Wann, who is also the author of Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators. "But they still do it. The same is true for people watching from home.... Rooting for a team gives fans a sense of belonging, and engaging in behaviors like screaming at the TV allows them to take pride in a team's win, as if they did their part."
That's true for Nick Aiello, an avowed Detroit Tigers fan. When watching games on TV, he believes his shouts can make a difference -- at least a little. "I feel like my cheering wouldn't cause them to win, but it might push them over the top in a close game," he says. "But most of the time, if they lose, I wouldn't say it's my fault."
Could shouting at the TV actually change the outcome of a game? Of course not. At the end of the day, everyone, even the most die-hard fan, knows it's a game. A lot of fans shout at the TV "because it's fun," Wann says. "It's not pure psychology. There's also an entertainment value to it as well."
Shouting at the TV in the belief that it will make a player run faster or help a fly ball clear the fences might be irrational, but that doesn't stop us from doing it. It's all part of the temporary madness -- and fun -- that comes with being a fan (which is short for "fanatic," after all).
So the next time you're in your living room, screaming in victory (or wailing in defeat), don't worry about whether or not your shouts, curses and cries help your team. It's all just part of the game.