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The Science of Why We Stan 🧪

Written by: Jadon King

Have you ever left a concert and regretted the large sums of hard-earned money you dropped on the ticket, the Uber there and back, the fifteen-dollar bottle of water, and the outfit? Of course not! You’re a stan, and financial insecurity is well worth a night you’ll remember for the rest of your life. (Right??) But the whole situation does raise an interesting question: just why do we spend so much money to go see artists who will never know our name? Why do we emotionally identify so strongly with artists we’ve never actually met whose lives are so completely different than ours? It’s an odd thing to step back and examine, but like… Why?? Today, we’re going to try and answer that question by digging into the psychology of being a superfan! 🧠

Across fandoms — from the NFL and NBA to 5SOS Fam and Swifties — the experience of being a fan doesn’t change all that much. In a paper published in the Journal of Sports Behavior, researchers found across four studies that sports fans and fans of other interests (movies, music, etc.) experienced their fandoms in the same way. Dr. Cornell Sandvoss echoes as much in his book Fans: The Mirror of Consumption, saying that all fans share “fundamental psychological, social and cultural premises and consequences”. All this really means is, at a base level, Harries engage with Harry Styles in the same way football fans engage with their favorite team. So, anything said about one fandom can be applied to another. 🤝

The most important part of understanding fandom is knowing that the reason people become so involved in fandom is less about the actual object of their attention and more about how the fandom benefits them. Scholars consider fandoms to be a “psychological construct” centered on a feeling of involvement and identification. Simply put, humans want to belong and fandoms provide it! More often than not, people become fans because they’re looking to identify with those around them who are already fans. Studies show that this is especially true for music. Young people use music more than anything else — books, movies, sports, you name it — to communicate who they are and connect with those around them based on the music they listen to. At a large scale, what fandom does is create an “imagined collective”, which is how fans can start up conversations with a total stranger simply because they’re wearing a particular band tee or jersey. 👕

Brain chemistry’s contribution to our involvement in fandom doesn’t stop there: fans are scientifically happier! Music fans in particular get the benefit of a dopamine release when hearing their favorite songs. A Harvard Health article analyzed a study that showed music listeners had higher scores for mental well-being and lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to a broad population sample. The study also revealed that 69% of those who actively go to live musical performances rate their brain health as “excellent” or “very good”, but only 58% of people who no longer attend concerts and 52% of those who never attend rate themselves as high. The results make sense considering that music activates almost all of the brain; in fact, all parts of the brain involved in emotion are not only activated while listening to music but are synchronized! This high-level, multi-layered brain activity keeps our neural pathways strong and floods our system with dopamine: the “happy hormone” that controls our body’s reward system. This makes sense, given that there’s literally no greater feeling than hearing the beginning of your favorite song at the concert you’ve been looking forward to for months! 🥰

Believe it or not, fandom even encourages us to think critically! Researching this blog has made us believe that Swifties could actually make some of the greatest private detectives of all time. Taylor Swift’s art and music (including her outfits!!) often reference previous albums and relationships or tease soon-to-be-released work. Fans, trained on this trend of self-referentiality, search every song, music video, and social media post for hints at possible upcoming releases. This has led to a vast array of conspiracy theories, including the outlandish theory that (allegedly) Taylor covered up vehicular manslaughter with ex-lover Harry Styles. While clearly an extreme example, it just goes to show how deeply involved her fans are. This trend isn’t unique to Swift fans either; football fans use their critical thinking skills when analyzing the other team and simulate how they would run the team. This investment creates a false sense of involvement, and even ownership, in fans, which is why people get so fired up about their fandom. Whether it's their team losing to a longtime rival or a new drop from their favorite artist, fans have high highs and low lows because they subconsciously believe they have a legitimate stake in what’s going on in the fandom. 🔥

And yet, the investment and passion shown by fans isn't always seen as a positive thing; especially if the fans are female. Fangirls have been derided for years for what others perceive as overly obsessed, hysterical behavior. Even the term "fangirl" has inherently negative connotations, used specifically to put down teenage fans of boybands. Ironically, when a fandom is laughed at, members grow closer together as they seek comfort in the community that accepts them. The accusations of hysteria are also inherently sexist, because why nobody is weirded out by grown men having public meltdowns over their team losing a game that revolves around getting a ball from one place to another? The behavior is the same but somehow the differing contexts make it okay for one group and not the other. Ultimately, we all care about different things in the same way, and respecting other fans for what they love is important; it's what being a fan is all about! 💜

Despite challenging and polarizing events across the world, at a core level, people really aren’t all that different from one another. Regardless of what we obsess over, we’re all ultimately looking for one thing: community. As humans, we literally need connectivity as a part of maintaining our mental health. Besides, music is so awesome how could you not become a fan?? Great art, for what is still an unknown reason, will always inspire and move us, help us celebrate our greatest moments, and comfort us at our lowest. Combined with the internet, the most powerful connective tool in history, fans will continue to do what they do best: celebrate what they love! So, what’s the main reason you’re a fan? And if it’s limited edition merch and not the whole community thing, we can’t help but respect it. Follow us on X, Instagram, and TikTok to let us know! 👭

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