Newswise — The Olympics bring out the ‘fanatic’ in even the most sports-averse Americans. For millions of baseball, football or basketball fans, that rollercoaster of emotion lasts through every six-month season. So why do we care so much if our team wins, especially during the Olympics?

Experts offer several explanations, including “collective identity,” or defining oneself through membership in a larger group. Dr. Karen Huxtable-Jester, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas, said this tendency is stronger in men than women, but all types of people seem to enjoy cheering for their national team. People also experience what researchers call the “BIRG” effect, basking in reflected glory. “We may enhance our own self-esteem by associating ourselves with successful people,” she said.

Another explanation for Olympic fandom comes from research on “minimal groups.” People in a group, even if they are only in that group by accident or circumstance of birth, usually want their group to win. It strengthens their own feelings of pride through identification with a group of winners, said Huxtable-Jester, who teaches psychology in The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

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