Soccer (football for our non-US readers) fans are (in) famous for their fandom.
During a 2002 Real Madrid vs. Barcelona match a Barcelona fan threw a pig’s head onto the field because he was so angry seeing a former player from his team wearing the white of Real.
That fandom is an Identity, one causing a lot of human behavior such as allocating discretionary time and money to sport or throwing a pig’s head on the pitch.
Does Identity Influence Decision to Help?
But, what about helping behavior? How might one’s Identity influence a decision to help or not? One big factor in deciding to help is the degree to which we identify with that person in need. I’m more likely to help if I think we have a shared Identity or connection. This is doubly true if you’re high in trait Conscientiousness as these folks ascribe a lot of value to being loyal to their in-group.
And arguably nothing is more “in” than one’s fellow soccer club fans especially if they are Manchester United fans. For the non-UK soccer fans, Man U is the New York Yankees of English football – widely popular and very successful and widely disliked. Non Manchester United fans have two favorite teams, their local club and whoever is playing Man U. And importantly for this post, no fan dislikes Man U more than a Liverpool FC fan.
[To all UK football fans, my apologies. I’m neither a Brit nor a soccer/football fan but this lead-in matters for the experiment so indulge me and roll with it if off the mark]
The Fan Experiment on Helping
Man U fans were recruited to participate in an experiment whose real aim was not revealed. Part one of the experiment had Man U fans arrive at a University classroom and answer some survey questions whose real purpose was to prime their Man U identity with agree/disagree items like, “I am a person who identifies with Man U fans” and “I am a person who is glad to be a Man U fan”.
Part Two involved a staged walk from one part of the campus to another with a choreographed accident encountered along the way. An actor was paid to jog by the experiment participants and stage a fall. The actor was wearing a Man U t-shirt. There were independent observers who witnessed participant helping behavior or lack thereof.
This experiment was repeated with new participants and the only thing that changed was the t-shirt club affiliation worn by the actor jogger, Liverpool FC.
When the jogger was wearing a Man U t-shirt, 92% helped the person. When he was wearing Liverpool FC, only 30% did.
The researchers ran the same experiment over again with one change, the survey done in the classroom as Part One primed their general soccer identity with questions changed to read, “I am a person who identifies with football fans” and “I am a person who is glad to be a football fan.”
Guess what happened? Go ahead, take a guess, I’ll wait…
Helping behavior was the same regardless of the t-shirt worn.
Identity matters. Priming it matters. Not all people have the same Identity and sometimes it requires leveling up or down with more/less specificity to create that shared connection.