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The Psychology of a Rivalry: Seahawks vs. 49ers

You see us as you want to see us...In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete...and a basket case...a princess...and a criminal...
Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours,
The Breakfast Club.

On the surface, John Hughes's 1985 movie The Breakfast Club is simple film. The five main characters each represent a different social group that can be found in any high school. After being forced to spend a Saturday together for various transgressions, they discover that they actually have a lot in common. Though this observation seems obvious, cognitive biases often prevent us from recognizing that people in other groups are really not that different from us.

This is especially evident in the Seahawks/49ers rivalry. Their fans see us as over-caffeinated, obnoxious, holier-than-thou band-wagoners. They think we have the most annoying coach in the league. Our players are cheaters to these fans. We interfere with every pass. Our QB is overrated and a fake. We are the Seadderall Seacocks.

Many Seahawks fans see 49ers fans as whiny, immature, opposing fan stabbers who live in the past. We KNOW that they have the most annoying coach in the league. Their players fire guns at parties! Their QB is overrated and looks like Squidward. Our blog is so much more civilized than theirs. They are the Forty Whiners.

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Which is true? In reality, neither. Though there is a bit of truth in most of these statements, our perceptions as fans are highly influenced by ingroup-outgroup bias. We have an innate tendency to look favorably upon those that belong to our group, and down on people in other groups. Perhaps this phenomenon has been passed down evolutionarily, as people were safer and more likely to survive if they relied on their tribe or village and distrusted others.

One of the earliest demonstrations of ingroup-outgroup bias happened in 1968 in an elementary school classroom. The teacher, Jane Elliot divided her 3rd grade class into groups based on eye color (blue and brown) and told the class that blue eyes were genetically superior and gave them preferential treatment. The results were predictable: the blue-eyed students ridiculed their brown-eyed classmates, who were peers just one day earlier. The next day, Elliot told them the brown eyes were actually superior and the hazing happened in reverse.

I generally stay away from Field Gulls during the week of the 49er games. There's just too much noise, much of it quietly influenced this little-known cognitive bias.

I'm not suggesting that we all need to get along and live happily ever after like new-found friends from Saturday school. This isn't an after school special. We just need to be aware that our perceptions are warped by a powerful, hidden force.

If you were born in Marin County, chances are your views of the Seahawks would be 180 degrees different. There are no enemies here, just good old fashioned rivalry.

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