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Next Generation Survey 2023: Psychological Foundations of Fandom

The landing page for the survey results is HERE


Summary: Psychological Foundations of Fandom


The following note describes data on the psychological benefits of group membership collected in the 2023 Next Generation Fandom Survey. Being a fan may be an important aspect of social identity and a widespread type of group membership. This note examines several benefits that fandom or group membership supplies. The material in this note (the dimensions of fandom utility) is used in subsequent analyses.

  • We find 5 primary dimensions of group membership utility. The dimensions include:

o “We Win” is the utility fans gain from feeling like they are a part of the team or organization.

o “Reflected Prestige/Glory” is the utility fans gain from being associated with prestigious or successful groups.

o “Stability Maintenance” is the utility of groups using collective power to maintain traditional social order.

o “Cancel Culture” is the utility of groups using power to regulate and sanction bad behavior.

o “My Own Thing” is the utility gained from being viewed as separate from groups.

  • The “We Win” Trait correlates most highly with sports fandom.

  • Regression analysis reveals that fandom for different sports and cultural entities (Movies, Music, Fashion) is driven by individual differences in the psychological traits related to group memberships. Some fandoms, like Movies and Music, are correlated with a strong need to be recognized as an individual, while fandom for sports is driven by a need to connect with and feel a part of cultural groups.

Implementation

To understand the role of group membership in fandom, the Next Generation Fandom Survey features a battery of questions about how individuals interact with groups, how groups offer value, and how group memberships impact social identity.


A segmentation analysis based on responses to the group belongingness and social identity scales yields five primary dimensions of group utility. The dimensions are produced via a statistical procedure so that the dimensions are uncorrelated. The five dimensions are described below:


1. We Win: Individuals scoring high on “We Win” strongly identify with their group's successes and failures. When their group wins (loses), they win (lose). In sports, these fans feel like they are part of the team.

  • “We Win” Key Item: Rate your agreement with the following statement - When my favorite organization succeeds, it feels like a personal victory.

2. Reflected Prestige: Individuals scoring high on the “Reflected Prestige” factor benefit from publicly associating with prestigious groups. These are the fans that enjoy the reflected glory of their groups' accomplishments.

  • “Reflected Prestige” Key Survey Item: Rate your agreement with the following statement - The social groups I belong to are an important reflection of who I am.

3. Societal Stability: Individuals scoring high on “Societal Stability” enjoy being members of traditional groups and are worried that societal structures are breaking down. This segment wants cultural organizations to maintain cultural norms.

  • “Stability Maintenance” Key Survey Item: Rate your agreement with the following statement - People's ideas change so much that I wonder if we'll ever have anything to depend on.

4. Cancel Culture Enforcement: Individuals scoring high on “Cancel Culture Enforcement” believe that it is important for their groups to identify and sanction bad behavior. This dimension is the flip side to the “Stability Maintenance” dimension, as the power of groups should be used to change cultural norms.

  • “Cancel Culture Enforcement” Key Survey Item: Rate your agreement with the following statement - Identifying instances of bad behavior from celebrities is very important

5. My Own Thing: Individuals scoring high on “My Own Thing” need to be recognized as separate from their membership groups.

  • “My Own Thing” Key Survey Item: Rate your agreement with the following statement - My personal identity, independent of others, is very important to me.


These dimensions reveal the sources of utility provided by group membership. Some people feel a direct connection between themselves and their groups. These people “win” when their favorite actor wins an Academy Award or their college is ranked highly. These sports fans exclaim, “We” just won the championship. Other people want to be associated with success and prestige. These people garner utility when their groups are respected.

We conduct subsequent analyses of social identity and group membership psychology in two ways. We either use the factor scores derived from the complete battery of questions or the scores on the Key Items listed above. The advantage of the factor scores is that these scores are uncorrelated with each other and utilize multiple survey items. The advantage of using the Key Items is simplicity.


Examples

The scores on the group belonging and social identity measures are helpful in multiple ways. Primarily, we can understand the benefits of sports and other types of fandom by examining how category-specific fandom is correlated with the dimensions of group belonging utility. The scores may also be used to develop psychological segments or profiles of generational cohorts or specific fandoms.


Table 1 shows the correlations between the key items for each social identity dimension and fandom for sports and music. A correlation of closer to 1 indicates that the scores on the items move together and in the same direction. A correlation of zero implies that the items are not related. The key items and the fandom measures are all based on subjects responding on a 7-point scale. As an aside, the correlation between sports fandom and music fandom is .20. A correlation of .2 indicates a weak positive relationship between two variables. This means that as one variable increases, the other variable also tends to increase, but the relationship is not very strong.


The striking finding in the table is the correlations between the two types of fandom and the “We Win” and “My Own Thing” Items. Sports fandom is much more correlated with the “We Win” measure, while Music Fandom is more correlated with a need to be recognized as an individual (My Own Thing).



These findings may be interpreted as Sports Fans being more motivated to feel fully a part of their groups and feeling like their groups’ successes (and failures) are their own. In contrast, Music Fans may use their fandom for different artists and genres to express their individuality.


Figure 1 shows the mean scores on each key item for Sports Fans and Music Fans. The most substantial differences between the two fandoms are in agreement with the Identity Intensity and the Individualism Items.




Table 2 presents partial results from linear regression models that explain Basketball and Baseball Fandom scores based on subjects’ responses to the selected social identity items. The results suggest that Basketball and Baseball fandom is driven by similar psychological traits with a couple of important differences.


First, Identity Intensity (We Win) is the best predictor for both sports. Second, scores on the importance of a personal identity independent of others (My Own Thing) are negatively correlated with fandom for both sports. The points of differentiation between the two sports are the importance of “Reflected Prestige” and “Societal Stability.” Baseball fans desire their groups to help maintain social order, while Basketball fans are more image-driven.




Table 3 shows similar linear regression results for Movie, Music, Social Media Influencers, and Fashion fandom. The results reveal substantive differences across the various cultural categories. Movie and music fandom is positively correlated with the “My Own Thing” psychological trait. However, Social Media Influencer and Fashion fandom is negatively correlated with the desire to be recognized as separate from groups. Influencer and Fashion fandom are also more strongly associated with the desire to have groups work to maintain societal stability and use group power to cancel bad behavior.



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