The 2018 FIFA World Cup is underway, which means we’re in store for a month of 32 countries going toe-to-toe, competing to be declared the best soccer team on Earth. And while viewers may be in it for the sports — or to monitor weird cultural moments that come from it — what we’re also going to get is a whole lot of national pride manifested as screams, chants, and songs.
Studies show that these demonstrations are more important than a person doused body paint singing about France may have you believe. In 2015 experimental psychologist Eiluned Pearce, Ph.D. explained to Inverse that singing is likely a bonding behavior because “it is so often performed in synchrony and involves some muscular exertion, and these attributes have already been linked to social affiliation and release of chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which seem to underpin the social bonding process.”
That means that when a group of Japanese fans chant “Vamos Nippon” they aren’t just having a good time — they are in the process of becoming closer as a group and forging social bonds. Studies demonstrate that, in turn, these bonds provide a strong sense of well-being and happiness. Singing and chanting have also been proven to be demonstrably effective ice-breakers: You’re more likely to be swayed into a fan frenzy in a crowd of unified screamers than you are by watching the games at home.
Soccer cheers that are more based on claps, rather than verbal chants, are also effective as a bonding tool. That’s because that action goes back to social synchronicity — as humans we inherently enjoy synchronizing our movements to others, and when that happens during moments of social interaction, that floods the brain with feel-good chemicals. Iceland, the smallest nation to ever qualify for the FIFA World Cup, has a clap perfectly demonstrative of this in which the crowd steadily speeds up a unanimous clap with a loud “huh!”
Another interesting takeaway for sports fans is the fact that studies have found that teams who sing their national anthem loudly are more likely to be successful. In a 2018 study published in the European Journal of Sports Science Australian and British researchers found that, from an examination of team performance at the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament, “teams that sang national anthems with greater passion went on to concede fewer goals.” Passion for a collective home drove a greater likelihood of victory — showing that it takes songs on the fields and in the stands to get a team the trophy.