The science behind why we chant at football matches | BBC Ideas
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The science behind why we chant at football matches | BBC Ideas

October 9, 2019

♪His name is Rio
and he watches from the stands♪ was how football fans
greeted Rio Ferdinand when he was banned
for missing a drugs test. Some football chants
are made up on the spot, some have echoed around
the same grounds for generations. But scientists think
they are a practice that has deep roots in human culture. Every social group ever studied,
from the Maori Hakka to the Sufi Whirling Dervishes to awkward British
people at a wedding, engages in some form of group
singing, dancing, and chanting. Why is this? Psychologists have found that when a group of people
engage in collective behaviour – like chanting – it has a profound effect
on how they think and feel. Group singing’s been shown
to have a powerful effect on the mood of depressed people. As well as the uplifting music, it seems that synchronising
your breathing, heartrate and voice with other people has the remarkable effect of making
us feel connected to one another. But of course football fans
don’t usually feel connected to everyone in the stadium. There are plenty of examples
of football chants that are rude, offensive, even racist or homophobic. Though they’ve historically been
a means to abuse players and referees, they can also endorse
more positive values like celebrating striker
Mo Salah’s goals with, ♪If he scores another few
then I’ll be Muslim, too♪ Collective behaviour like chanting
is, more than anything, a way to express social identity
and the values of that group. Like the Liverpool fans chanting,
“Justice for the 96” in support of the Hillsborough
disaster victims. Chanting at a football match doesn’t
just bond a group together in love and harmony, there is a dark side
to coordinated behaviour. Most armies around the world
march up and down in parades. For the past 100 years, at least since the invention
of the machine gun, it’s been a bad idea to walk slowly
towards the enemy in a straight line. So why do soldiers
march and chant together? In one experiment, people were asked to put a jar
of live woodlice into a grinder. The people who had marched in unison
around the car park beforehand threw about 50% more
of the bugs into the grinder than those who had
walked the same distance but not in a coordinated march. Please note there was actually
an escape chute in the grinder and every bug escaped unharmed. This suggests coordinated behaviours can lower people’s sense
of personal autonomy, and make them more likely
to be obedient to aggressive action. And there is a final reason
that people might chant at a football match. Writing has only been around
for a few thousand years, but we find chants and songs
in every pre-literate culture. Even today in India, it’s the chanted version
of Vedic texts that’s seen as the definitive
version, not the written form. Perhaps chanting is a call back
to those older practises of encoding and sharing cultural knowledge. So next time you hear
a thousand people yelling… to the referee, remember that it’s because
they’re bonding with each other, affirming their social identity and using an ancient technology
to record knowledge. And, perhaps, because the referee
doesn’t know what he’s doing. Thanks for watching! 🙂 Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to receive notifications for new videos.

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