Love and Having Your Team Win Have the Same Effect on Football Fans’ Brains

Fascinating findings from a recent study.

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Football fans are more passionate about the sport than you ever realized. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Coimbra in Portugal found that the attachment football fans have to their team has the same chemical effect on their brains as romantic love.

The study was conducted over three years on 54 men and two women ranging from ages 21 to 60-years-old. While the number of participants is small, the results are intriguing. The participants were football fans, mainly loyal to Porto or Academica de Coimbra, and researchers monitored their brain activity while they watched clips of their team scoring or being scored on. Both football teams were playing in the Portuguese First League (the top professional club league in Portugal) during the study.

During a moment of celebration, such as a goal or winning the game, the fans’ brains released dopamine in their frontal cortex, Miguel Castelo-Branco, one of the researchers who worked on the study, explained to Clarin. This release of dopamine, also known as the love drug, is the same chemical event that occurs when you feel romantically towards someone.

The study found that fans’ dedication to their team stayed strong even during less than celebratory moments, like losing to a rival team. The findings also revealed that the cerebral amygdala, responsible for emotional regulation in the brain, was more active in football fans than in people who were in love.

The study, “Tribal Love” has been published in the neuroscience journal, SCAN. Read more about the study here.