Sports

Fact. It’s as much fun to watch your hated rival lose as your beloved team win.

Duke’s Grayson Allen looks back at his time with the Blue Devils

Duke senior Grayson Allen looks back at his time with the Blue Devils after his final game, an overtime loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Sunday, March 25, 2018.
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Duke senior Grayson Allen looks back at his time with the Blue Devils after his final game, an overtime loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Sunday, March 25, 2018.

Time-honored ACC sports rivalries keep the Triangle humming all year as Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Wolfpack fans constantly needle each other.

It’s what we do here.

But do they reveal our better selves or something more sinister?

Nationwide research presented in a National Public Radio report this week shows the most ardent sports fans are just as pleased with their rivals’ stumbles as with their own team’s success.

The report, presented by the network’s Hidden Brain podcast host Shankar Vedantam, shows strong evidence of schadenfreude -- the German term for taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.

Psychologist Richard Smith, who teaches at the University of Kentucky, surveyed Kentucky students asking them to respond anonymously to a report about an injury to a Duke basketball player.

“We showed pretty clearly that, especially people who were highly identified basketball fans, were quite happy when the rival player for an opposing team got a severe injury,” Smith told NPR.

At Harvard, psychologist Mina Cikara used an MRI to study brain activity in die-hard Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees fans. They were shown plays where their team succeeded in addition to their rival failing.

Those fans showed pleasure, measured by activity in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, when watching both videos.

Two weeks later, according to the NPR report, participants completed a web survey to measure how prone they were to aggressive behaviors.

“And the thing that we found,” Cikara told NPR, “that was really exciting for us as academics, but probably bad for the world, was that those people who exhibited that much more ventral striatal activity when watching their rival fail two weeks earlier in the scanner were the same people who then told us they would be that much more likely to threaten, heckle and hit a rival fan.”

So while it’s just a game to some, it’s more than that to many others.

Be careful out there.

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