• A new study shows that the violence we see in soccer super-fans isn’t characteristic of their personality or every day.
  • This aggression is instead rooted in a psychological construct called identity fusion, which refers to the sense of oneness and belonging one feels in a group of individuals.
  • These findings shed a light on how the human race has evolved to rely on and prioritize the groups that they love and feel indebted to.
  • Researchers say that this aggressive behavior can be reversed and that identity fusion can be utilized for good.

A new study, “Brazil’s football warriors: Social Bonding and intergroup violence,” which is published in Evolution & Human Behavior, reveals that die-hard soccer fans who display hooligan-like behavior only do so in the sport. In other words, they aren’t typically disorderly, dysfunctional, or otherwise aggressive outside of the game—their fan violence is solely rooted in what the authors of this study call “intense social cohesion” or identity fusion.

Identity fusion is a psychological construct that refers to the sense of oneness one feels with a specific group of individuals, which provides fulfillment socially and personally. The social self is separate from the personal self, whereas the former refers to the characteristics that align with the camaraderie of a given group (here, one’s soccer team), and the latter refers to the traits that individualize him or her (such as one’s height, age, and/or intelligence). However, this concept involves the union or “fusion” of the two—and those who have experienced this fusion often begin to treat other group members like family.

Postdoctoral researcher at Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind and Lead Author of the study, Dr. Martha Newson, talked to NeuroscienceNews about their findings and delved into how these psychological construct comes into play with soccer fans: “Violent behavior is almost entirely focused on those regarded as a threat—usually rival fans or sometimes the police.” She went on to explain the high stakes that are involved, “not only because these fans tend to be more committed to their group, but because they tend to experience the most threatening environments, they are even more likely to be ‘on guard’ and battle ready.”

The researchers discovered their findings after surveying 465 Brazilian soccer fans—but that’s not to say that this only proves true for this subgroup or even soccer fans in general. Instead, it could provide a small look at all sports fans, as well as non-sporting groups like religious or political groups. When you consider how the human race has evolved, in that groups would compete for survival, it’s easier to understand how this has resulted in the culture that has surfaced today.

Furthermore, the researchers say that their findings suggest inter-group violence can be reversed and identity fusion used for good: “Our results suggest that to reduce hooliganism and other forms of inter-group violence, efforts could be made to harness the extreme pro-group sentiments associated with identity fusion in more peaceful ways,” as seen in the study’s abstract. Further research can help us better understand how to reach this destination.

Newson, M., Bortolini, T., Buhrmester, M., & et al. (2018, June 21). Brazil’s football warriors: Social bonding and intergroup violence. Evolution and Human Behavior. Retrieved on June 25, 2018 from https://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(17)30193-9/fulltext

Oxford University (2018, June 23). Social Bonding Key Cause of Football Violence. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved June 23, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/football-violence-social-bonding-9430/