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August 11, 2016

Did your team lose the Big Game? Be wary of unexpected health effects.

Daily Briefing
Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Feb. 11, 2022.

It's easy for fans to feel wrapped up in their team's triumphs and tragedies during the Super Bowl and other competitions—so much so that losses may cause significant health effects, according to NPR's "Hidden Brain."

For example, a 2013 study tracked about 600 German high school students' attitudes toward foreigners before and after important soccer matches. During the 2006 World Cup and 2008 European championship, the German team was knocked out of the semi-finals and finals by the Italian and Spanish national teams.

"The emotional involvement in both tournaments was very high," the study authors wrote. When the German national team lost the games, the study found students developed more negative views toward people from the winning countries.

Researchers have found similar effects in the United States, too. One study published in Psychological Science found that the day after a National Football League team lost, saturated fat consumption in that team's city increased by about 16 percent. Consumption increased even more when the home team had played a closely matched rival.

The theory, according to NPR: "After a crushing defeat, a losing fan finds comfort in comfort food."

Studies have found that support for a losing team is also correlated with an increased likelihood for domestic violence and higher crime in the team's home city after an upset loss. Another study found that the week after the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots during 2008's nail-biter Super Bowl, heart-related deaths increased about 20 percent in Massachusetts—home of the Patriots—compared with the previous year. New York saw no such increase.

But the effects of losing may not be limited to sports, NPR notes. After the 2012 presidential race, researchers found the loss was immensely "painful" for Republicans—who were more affected by the loss than those touched by national tragedies, such as Boston-area residents after the Boston Marathon bombings.

"The pain of losing an election is much larger than the joy of winning one," the study authors noted ("Hidden Brain," NPR, 8/9; Gniewosz et al., Journal of Applied Social Psychology, June 2013; Pierce et al., Journal of Experimental Political Science, 2015; Perry, Minnesota Post, 7/13).

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