Why cheering for a winning team makes us feel better inside, especially abroad.

Do you get mocked for showing up in your Golden State Warriors jersey to work the day after their NBA Championship? Have you ever made fun of people with a whole life story worth of bumper stickers? Think twice next time! Did you know that cheering publicly for a team is a great boost for your self-esteem? …Well, given the fact that they are winning (minor detail, I know).

Groups shape our identity

Psychologist call the phenomenon of people wearing their team’s jerseys after a victory “basking in reflected glory (BIRGing)“. It means that you associate yourself with the success of this group “X” (insert favorite club, group or team, heck even a band, if they just won the grammy). Because of your identification as a member of that well-reputed group, their success magically becomes yours.

Boom, more pride and self-esteem, because YOU just won the NBA Championships (if you happen to be a Warriors fan recently, for example).

Even your physiological state is affected, through the production of hormones (e.g. Testosterone). Crazy right? You’ve done nothing more than watching them do the work, but you feel better afterwards!

It all stems from the concept of our social identity as the portion of our self-concept that comes from the perceived membership of a relevant group (Turner & Oakes, 1986).
Groups that we belong to are huge in shaping our social identity. Just think about this question: “Who are you?” Often times, we answer by listing our VIP membership list. “I’m a doctor, a social entrepreneur, an athlete, a rugby supporter”….Noticed? All groups - at different sizes- but undoubtedly groups.

What happens when you move abroad?

When you pack your bags and suitcases to move abroad, you are of course taking your social identity with you. Or at least how you’ve previously constructed it, with all these great groups you belong(ed) to. Unfortunately, you’ll soon find that many of these groups do not mean a thing abroad. HEC, huh? Pardon, MIT what? Eagles Scouts, never heard of that bird!

There goes the self-esteem!

In case they do know the groups you identify yourself with (your nationality should ring a bell…I say should, since we never know who we come across!), the reputation of that group could be VERY different to the one you made back home. Let’s just say that all of the sudden, you find yourself in a culture where your nationality is not gloriously well received but rather negatively. What research found is that we then engage in an activity called CORFing (or Cutting Off Reflected Failure, Cialdini & Richardson, 1980). Depending on how deeply you are committed to the group that is attacked, you’ll either distance yourself from it (“I never said I liked them.”) or attribute external causes to their failure (“Yes, but with that referee, we didn’t stand a chance”). But the most common response to an attack of a group we deeply value (like our country, e.g.) is BLASTING the attacker. We become defensive, criticize and counter-attack. Why? Because, our identity is partially based on the membership to this group. The deeper we are connected with it, the more an attack will have an effect on our self-esteem and value system. Makes sense, right?

But the good news is that living abroad comes with an immense opportunity to enrich your social identity. That’s right! Go out, and find yourself some new groups to belong to. (No, I’m not saying change your nationality, but incorporate other parts of your new life into your identity). Teams to root for, organizations to support, bands to go to concerts to. And do put on that jersey the day after the game, to show that you are part of this group. It’ll feel good, I promise!