Right now, millions around the globe are glued to their television sets, following the world’s most widely-watched sporting tournament – the FIFA World Cup. In 2014, 3.2 billion watched the telecasts of competition from when it was held in Brazil. More than a billion tuned in to the final match that saw Germany beat Argentina to lift football’s most coveted trophy . In this year’s (2018) competition, it was reported that 99.6% of all TV viewers in Iceland watched their country’s very first World Cup match – that’s nearly everyone in the country of approximately 330,000 people! . The tiny Scandinavian nation held Argentina to a draw – a disappointing outcome for the south American country given their past history of success in the event, but a delightfully proud moment for the Icelandic supporters who started the tournament as underdogs.
You need not be a fan to enjoy the World Cup competition. If you’re followed, tuned in to – and supported teams competing at the FIFA World Cup, you might have also experienced the highs and the lows, the anticipation of victory and the agonizing sting of defeat that accompanies each team’s fortunes at the global football festival. Each national team competing at the tournament carries with them the hopes, aspirations, and pride of their respective countries. The experiences during the World Cup are – the players and spectators alike, emotions are experienced at the group level. You can think of emotions felt alongside others in pretty much any group you can think of – sporting groups of course, but also work teams, or even an online interest group that you participate in. There’s a good chance that your feelings are tied to the fortunes of your group membership.
Psychologists studying emotions at the group level find that they are indeed distinct from individual emotion. One reason is that group-level emotions are dependent on how much someone identifies with their groups. This finding is a well-established on in the psychological sciences, suggesting that the stronger your ties with your group, the more likely you are to feel along with your group . Think of the political party you support, for instance, and how you feel in response to hearing news of a rival political party embroiled in a scandal. You may feel schadenfreude (delight in another’s misery) in response to this news, but particularly so if you were an ardent supporter or invested member of your political group. Indeed, researchers examining political identification find this to be the case among Republicans and Democrats: bad news inflicting one party resulted in schadenfreude towards the rival group, but this was dependent on how much the group member identified with their political party .
Group emotions are shared – they are ‘felt’ as one, as a result of us expressing, and mimicking the emotional expressions we observe in others . Finally, and perhaps more importantly, group-level emotions influence our attitudes and behaviours towards others. We are biased to like those who share our values and ideals (in-group), and form unfavourable emotions to those who are different from us (out-group) and. In this way, group emotion can be used to explain what researchers call ‘intergroup competition.’ In several studies, researchers found that emotions such as anger, fear, and contempt motivate a group to distance themselves from the out-group. When group members felt angry and saw their own group was strong, they were also more likely to take action against the outgroup . Riots in football competitions are the perfect example of group emotion mobilizing undesirable behaviour, as are public citizen-led protests and political activism where its members feel powerful or superior.
Group emotion are the social glue – the affective ties that bind us to cooperate, or compete with other groups. If you’re observing, or part of any major social event, take note of the emotions – felt, and expressed, that undergirds your group’s experience. Often, they are indications of what groups are thinking – and what they intend to do next. Now, back to that World Cup match between England and Panama…