MRI shows why sports fans' views of the same game differ

Researchers have used MRI to uncover differences in the brain activity of football fans that were supporting different teams but watching the same match, according to an article published online on 1 October in Cerebral Cortex.

The group, led by Tim Andrews, PhD, from the University of York, U.K., mapped and compared the brain activity of fans of two different English football clubs -- Manchester United and Chelsea -- as they watched a montage of highlights from games between the two teams. MRI scans revealed the activity in the sensory regions of the fans' brains were aligned in all participants, suggesting they each saw and heard the same events taking place.

However, there were clear differences between the groups in the activity of higher regions of the brain responsible for cognition, including in the region associated with the brain's reward system -- the nucleus accumbens. This disparity indicated the fans of separate teams were interpreting the sensory information differently.

"In the frontal and subcortical regions of the brain -- including areas known to be active in reward, self-identity, and control of movement -- there was a correlation between supporters of the same team, but significant differences between the groups," Andrews said in a statement from the university. "This is what allows fans of rival teams to develop a different understanding of the same game."

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