Sports fans escape from their everyday lives through their beloved game, whether it be football, basketball, or soccer. They narrow in on what’s going down on the field or the court and they forget about their own positions or roles in life for the time being. More importantly, these individuals develop a special kind of bond with one another—they connect over their intrigue, their devotion to what’s playing out on TV or on the very ground in front of them. It’s a kind of camaraderie unlike any other, one that fosters a deep dedication, which—in turn—may be to blame for fan violence (at least in soccer), says a new study published in The International Review for the Sociology of Sport.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, made this discovery after evaluating the causes of fan violence in multiple countries, including the UK, Brazil, Australia, and Indonesia. They found that it didn’t matter where the subjects were from; the soccer-lovers viewed each other as family, and showed a great desire to protect their counterparts, which took the form of violence.

The research team ultimately hopes that better understanding these grounds can help in confronting this unacceptable violent behavior and possibly even channeling it into something more constructive. Dr. Martha Newson, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at Oxford’s Department of Anthropology, comments on this kindship and its potentially positive benefits: “Football fandom is in many ways a positive thing that can trigger impressive displays of commitment, like attending every match come rain or shine, or setting up food banks for the community during the recession,” she says. “Even though you are not literally brothers, you share a sense of kinship based on going through life-changing ordeals together.” Newson goes on to note her optimism in “harnessing these motivations” to produce good.

Furthermore, the research shows “that many extreme group behaviors are fueled by the same motivations,” Newson adds. The individuals in gangs and terror groups often feel and understand the same kinship, furthering their devotion to one another and the strength in numbers. Newson and her team suspect that these extremist groups and their behaviors could be altered using the same ideology they’re catching on to.

Moving forward, the team of researchers is continuing their investigation into fan violence and possible tactics to curb this behavior. They hope to eventually extend their research to cover the aforementioned extremist groups and have a direct hand in lessening dangerous behavior and actions.

Source: Oxford University “Understanding Soccer Violence Could Help the Fight Against Terror.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 26 September 2017.