Fans behaving badly? Don’t blame the cheap (or expensive) seats

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On May 17, 2004

If you’re surrounded by boorish fans at a sporting event, moving to another part of the arena or stadium might not help you escape fans behaving badly, according to a University of Missouri-Rolla student’s research.

Ticket prices and seat location apparently have little effect on how fans behave at sporting events, according to Natalie Foster, a UMR senior in psychology who will receive an award for her work from Psi Chi, the national psychology honorary society, at the American Psychological Society’s annual meeting later this month. She also will present her research at the conference.

Innocent bystanders at sporting events often find other sports fans causing chaos when their favorite team is on the field. Foster’s research with Dr. Christian M. End, an assistant professor of psychology and management and information systems at UMR, is being conducted with hopes of ending this type of aggressive behavior.

"The main thing we’re focusing on is sports fan aggression," Foster explains. "We decided to study sports fan behavior, creating a few different sports scenarios in a survey, for groups to see what indicated aggression in fans."

The research may still be in its early stages, but it has already garnered national attention for Foster. She will receive Psi Chi’s National Convention Award for undergraduate research during the American Psychological Society’s 16th annual convention, which will be held May 27-30 in Chicago. Foster and End will also present their research on the topic during the meeting.

Foster surveyed a class of undergraduate students at UMR for her paper, titled "Ticket Price, Seat Location and Victim Characteristics’ Impact on Sports Fan Aggression." In the paper, Foster describes four different scenarios used in the survey of students.

"The first scenario was that they paid $10 for their tickets and sat five rows away from the field," Foster says. "The next scenario also included a $10 ticket, but the students were imagining themselves in the upper deck seats. Then they could have the same seating, upper deck or five rows from the field, but with a $75 ticket."

Foster and End wanted to find out whether "where you sat or how much you paid had anything to do with how likely it was for someone to cause trouble," Foster said.

Foster says she first believed that fans who paid more money for tickets would be the most likely to cause trouble, since paying such a hefty sum would cause them to feel a sense of entitlement to the game. She found, however, that neither the price of tickets nor the seating range had any influence on participation in aggression. In fact, the only major causing factor she discovered was high identification with the team.

"Fans who highly identify with their team feel like their fandom is a very important part of life, like breathing," Foster says. "We want to do more research, and see what behaviors are associated with targets. We did discover that those who felt aggression were more likely to take it out on fellow spectators, as opposed to players or referees."

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Psychology at UMR

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On May 17, 2004. Posted in Research