So… who likes sports?
There’s no doubt that watching sports is a very popular pastime.
In 2010 alone, there were over 40,500 h of live sporting events on broadcast and cable TV (Neilsen Company, 2011)
However, little is know about the personality traits and the identity of people who like watching sports*.
Appelbaum and colleagues gathered broad demographic, physiological, clinical, psychological, and pastime-preference information from a sample of 293 individuals to see what factors most reliably predicted sport spectating habits. First, they examined possible relationships between watching sports and physiological measures. Saliva was collected and baseline testosterone and cortisol levels were measured. Moreover, 2D:4D digit ratio was calculated for each individual. This measurement is a proxy of prenatal androgen exposure and has been shown to correlate with particular disorders. Secondly, they administered self-report scales looking at ADHD (Jasper/Goldberg adult ADD/ADHD questionnaire) and autism traits (AQ; Autism Spectrum Quotient). Furthermore, they investigated the relationship between sports spectating and personality traits. The NEO personality inventory (NEO-PI-R), which measures the “BigFive” personality traits, and the Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11) were used. Finally, Appelbaum et al. asked their participants about the pastime activities. The pastime involvement questionnaire asked participants how many hours a week they spend on a number of activities such as reading, playing sports, watching television and movies, and listening to music.
As expected gender and age significantly accounted for the variability in the results. Young males reported spending more time watching sports. High levels of sports spectating were correlated with higher levels of extraversion, excitement seeking and gregariousness on the personality questionnaires. The participants who reported spending more hours watching sports also engaged more in specific pastime activities, such as participating in sports and exercise, watching TV/movies, and playing video games. No differences were observed in the self-report scales. More specifically, no differences in ADHD or autism symptoms were found between people who watch sports and people who don’t. Likewise, the authors didn’t find any relationship between digit ratio and sports watching.
No relationship was found between baseline concentrations of cortisol or testosterone and sports spectating. This came as a surprise to the authors who list a number of previous studies that identified higher concentrations of testosterone and cortisol in people who like sports. Now, before jumping to conclusions, take into account that the sport spectators in this study is not your average sports fan! Previous literature has identified two related concepts; fans and spectators. Even though those groups have some overlapping qualities, there are some key differences.
…a fan is typically associated with an emotional link to a sport or team, while a spectator is a more neutral descriptor of an individual who consumes sports (Wann & Dolan, 2001).
In this study, they were interested only in sports spectators (defined by the hours they spend watching sports). This could possibly explain why no relationship was found between sports watching and cortisol concentration.
Also, I think that there must be differences between spectators of different types of sports (e.g. rugby, tennis, snooker). The authors didn’t examined this, but it’d be interesting to see a study looking at differences in sports preferences between people who enjoy watching sports.
Gregory Appelbaum, L., Cain, M., Darling, E., Stanton, S., Nguyen, M., & Mitroff, S. (2011). What is the identity of a sports spectator? Personality and Individual Differences DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.10.048
* Academics are probably not very keen on sports?