Whether you enjoy football, basketball, or another sport entirely, you know one thing to be true—a person’s allegiance to their favorite sports team runs deep. Whether you’re an unwavering Houston Texans supporter or your devotion lies with the red, gold, and white of the Kansas City Chiefs, most fans stand by their team regardless of its season’s victories (or quickly accruing losses). 

And if you dare to challenge these fans by suggesting your team is somehow superior to theirs? There’s a solid chance that the discussion will end in a heated debate. But what fuels these passionate sports rivalries? Enter group polarization, a phenomenon that sheds light on the existence of these heated conflicts.  

So, grab your ball caps, sports fans, while we explain what group polarization is and how it plays a role in decades-long sports rivalries. 

What Is Group Polarization? 

Group polarization describes how individuals in a group can develop more extreme views and opinions on a particular topic based on the influence of others in the group. In the realm of sports rivalries, the existence of group polarization is as clear as the freshly washed windowpanes of a luxury suite. 

Let’s say you’re a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. You grew up watching their games every Sunday night with your family, and as you got older, you became friends with fellow Cowboys enthusiasts. Now, you have a group chat that lights up incessantly on game days. You share stories, statistics, and the occasional frustration as you argue against a ref’s bad call. 

As the text thread continues, individuals in the group begin adopting more extreme views about how incredible their team is. So, regardless of how perfect or disappointing their season may be, nearly every person in the group chat believes that the Cowboys are the best team in the NFL. If you were to express any opposing thoughts on the matter, they would likely respond with strongly formed opinions as to why you’re incorrect. 

How Does Group Polarization Factor Into Team Rivalries? 

You might be wondering exactly how group polarization plays into team rivalries. We’re so glad you asked. Below, we’re diving into the psychology behind how this phenomenon manifests in sports rivalries. 

In-Group Bias 

When you belong to a group, like a passionate bunch of sports fans who love the same team, you share a sense of belonging. The more you discuss your team’s skills and performance with your group, be it a virtual or in-person gathering, the collective agreement usually becomes more extreme in your team’s favor. This is one factor that contributes to group polarization. 

Out-Group Hostility 

On the flip side, group polarization can also give rise to heightened hostility toward fans of opposing teams, particularly rivals. Fans from other leagues may be seen as an ‘other,’ making it easier for your group to capitalize on the superiority of your team over theirs. This dynamic not only provides an opportunity to cultivate a negative attitude toward rival fans but also enhances the affection for your team, implicitly positioning it as superior. 

Confirmation Bias 

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that involves believing information that confirms a person’s existing beliefs. It also lends itself to ignoring information that contradicts those beliefs. In terms of sports rivalries, let’s say you’re a Boston Celtics fan. As they’re playing the L.A. Lakers, you and your friends applaud the referee when their decision benefits your team. In contrast, you’re the first person to clap back on a ruling against the Celtics. 

Social Comparison 

Who doesn’t love comparing something they love against something they, well, don’t? Sports teams are a great example. In a group setting, fans relish the heated discussions that compare their team’s achievements and players against those of rival teams. These comparisons can lead individuals in the group to form even more extreme opinions about the greatness that is their team—and the inferiority of rivals. 

Emotional Amplification 

When you reminisce on the moment you were in the stadium watching the quarterback throw the final ball that secured your team’s Super Bowl victory, it can amplify the emotions of other members of your group. These shared emotional experiences help forge stronger bonds within the group, which can lead to extreme emotional responses against rival teams. 

When It Comes to Your Education, There Is No Rival 

While group polarization may play a hefty role in influencing some of the biggest sports rivalries, your educational journey should be defined by the pursuit of a degree that aligns with your career aspirations. At The University of Texas Permian Basin, we understand the importance of realizing your professional goals. 

Explore our online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a program designed to be your initial step toward turning your dreams into reality. Ranked among the Most Affordable Online Psychology Degrees by STEPS and #11 in Top Online Bachelor of Psychology Degree Programs by TopCounselingSchools.org, our degree provides a quality education that is both accessible and esteemed. 

As a virtual student at UTPB, you can benefit from the flexibility of asynchronous courses, allowing you to complete your coursework at your convenience. And with rolling admissions, you have the flexibility to start your educational journey when it suits you best. Take the next step in achieving your academic and career aspirations by applying to The University of Texas Permian Basin today