19 May 1998

Ball Games Raise Testosterone Levels

Research in the past has shown that participants in sports competitions have increases in testosterone in anticipation of the contest and as a result of winning. But according to a new study, men who watch their favourite sports team compete - and win - experience the same type of testosterone surges as the players themselves. Additionally, highly loyal male fans also demonstrate a rise in testosterone just by anticipating a sporting event of their favourite team, compared to fans who are less committed to the team. The results of the study, led by Paul Bernhardt of the University of Utah's Educational Psychology Department, are to be published in an upcoming issue of Physiology and Behavior.

"We know spectators have a strong affiliation with athletes," said Bernhardt. "For example, they speak about teams in personal terms, like 'We won.' Since the testosterone effect occurred in athletes, we figured it would occur in spectators as well."

Bernhardt's group conducted two separate studies. The first measured testosterone levels of male fans attending a basketball game between rivals Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia in 1991. The second tracked testosterone levels among male fans watching Brazilian and Italian teams play in a World Cup Soccer tournament in 1994.

Saliva samples were collected for analysis before and after each game. Bernhardt found that testosterone levels increased about 20 per cent in fans of winning teams and decreased about 20 per cent in fans of losing teams. Both games had very close finishes. "The effect was likely sudden, rather than building up gradually during the game, because the outcome was not determined until the last few seconds of each game," the researchers said.

The fact that the fans' psychological connection to a team is also reflected in their physiology is "a little surprising," Bernhardt said. "They didn't shoot the balls, or run the court, but they experienced the same rise in testosterone that the athletes do."

"I think this confirms a lot of people's notions that serious fans of sports teams really do seem to be affected by their teams. We have some tangible evidence of the connection between fans and the outcome of their favourite sports teams. This is not just happening in the mind, it's happening in the whole person."