The series that looks at current events through the lens of psychology. Michael Blastland explores the quirky ways in which we humans think, behave and make decisions.
In this programme, the Zoo team are watching people, who are watching people, who are often as not going round in circles. And trying to work out what it is in the mind that makes that so compelling.
It's time for the Olympics, and we're investigating the psychology of being a sports spectator. Even if you're not watching the Rio Games, you might be curious why so many do.
Is it an animal impulse to display and enjoy watching physical skills? An instinct to compete, to tell stories? Are we drawn to the drama of the spectacle, the unknown result? Or is it a vicarious pleasure, imagining yourself at the starting block?
Michael Blastland is joined by resident Zoo psychologist Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School and roving reporter Timandra Harkness.
Guests this week include sports commentator Alison Mitchell, former sports reporter Lynne Truss, Daniel Glaser from King's College London, philosopher George Papineau, and motorsport presenter Gareth Jones.
Producer: Eve Streeter
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.
United States


00:00:00hello I'm Michael Blackland in your listening to the human Zoo from BBC Radio 4
00:00:08watching fascinated is to raindrops on the window button and begin to lose their grip about to chase others down to the windowsill it's so strangely evocative of what
00:00:25so the two raindrops at clinging to the bottom of the horizontal window frame play painted glass stretching vertically filet them that side by side they start to bulge downwards still planning on still clinging lifeless blogs as if they're in the truck on the right to making good Headway to at the bottom of the window but now I rushed this to no one but I'm a willing spectator which is psychologically curious the way that I see them winning losing fighting back or so it seems to me that makes me wonder he's got the Clara paw on the left it's stuttering again she told up why does he smoke shop on the right is racing school to go to the window pane just a few sent to me just to go makes me wonder if there's something surprise
00:01:25sing me weirdly deep about watching people compete I mean what's going on in my head if it even works but raindrops
00:01:37the wind I paint dissipate into a puddle and now the truck on the left slowly slowly trickles Highway down she's tired she's weary but now she makes it to the raindrop on the right
00:01:57this program is about the psychology being a sports spectator Rio anyone even if you're not watching you might be curious why so many do so this week we're watching people who were watching people who are often is not going round in circles and trying to work out what it is in the mind that makes that for so many so compelling
00:02:23thanks to Allison Mitchell for the rain coming tree beautifully done let's try the rain drop test professor of Behavioral Science at work business school Nick am I alone or do you have to be upsetting to Nation to make a race out of to rain drops down the window no I think it's an extremely common and while the basic thing that we all experience to some degree anything can look like a competition competition that just endlessly fascinating I think it would be that's it's something to do with a silver dress form of a Five Below display for dominance another would be something to do with State might be something more essential in that sun sensor how the world going to come out we don't know how I'm going to find out Lakes Reservoir in the rain door price it's a very open question
00:03:23coffee with Professor is Professor David from King's College London
00:03:48is it mean to the back one step and ask why do people play sports why do they take such pleasure and pride in athletic Pursuits many animals are exercise physical skills just for this year enjoyment of it I mean you see horses racing they mean they do it so fun you see dolphins playing in the in the wipes I catch you I was doing it so fun just the same baby enjoy scratching their bodies exercising their abilities me he was a difference in that they also seek to develop their that it's you say practice and so it only interested in how good can you be at hitting a tennis ball banana cricket full we don't want to see it that's bills other than into into competition they want to see whether it was good as others as a result of me just like with other things humans care about we admire people who do we have my people who
00:04:42intelligence who beautiful me my people who have exceptional physical skills then you want your side to be the one that displays the skills to that most I can see why you might be quite interested in the people who are best at it for an organism made selection think we were going to remove that but the spectating this is a bit of a puzzle I want to put to you wishes that I can watch to raindrops running down a window pane and feel something a bit like a sporting engagement
00:05:34loyalty static snow Beautiful spoiler somehow I don't know but it's not even really competitive is it doesn't matter with no human drama
00:05:52that's when I can come get excited about the raindrops I mean I'd I didn't get interested in which raindrop is going to get to the end but I can't get excited about that's taking them School sport could not get excited about going to beat Denmark in this heat of the cutting competition and the reason I get interested is because it's unbelievable what they're doing I mean it's it's bows on ice and they said they have a high degree of precision and they let it go in and they doing that thing with the broom sticks and it's exciting because it involves vibrating drums I'm so excited like an obsessive because I have a feeling a bit weird now but possibly with such good storytellers we can create the beginning in the end out of almost anything and maybe what sport today I'm very natural beginning and end of this a whistle usually
00:06:46Simoniz so do I but that sounds right tell me one thing we do once when we hear stories Soul engagement fictions is we want some closure on The Narrative of the trajectory and then add a new Mommy to completion and sporting contest have that built in. They I mean is going to be result
00:07:14Nick David Pompano says it's very natural impulse he didn't have too much truck with some of us everybody did agree that might be something in the storytelling explanation that's a mechanism that can go all the way from raindrops to the Olympics what do you think the sport as a as a vehicle for the stories then expect to be interested in the the one by the story the story behind the the event was seeing something simple that the backstory for house it just got to where they all seem to imply that some of the pleasure maybe coming from but we can still find ourselves strangely fascinated and another argument aesthetic pleasure
00:08:14Mexican that I genuinely can't decide whether watching or listening to school needs an explanation and I speak to someone who enjoys it but I'll tell you I'd love to hear from and that someone who's felt the same ambivalence watched it but conscious that he might also be a little bit weird
00:08:38former sports writer Lake Trust
00:08:42is very easy to be sniffing about sports I know this because I've had an unusual history of being fussed Point deeply sniffy then interested been fascinated and then back to sniffing again
00:08:59in the late 1990s I was employed to write about football golf tennis and someone I did it for 4 years then stopped now it is the expertise I cried during this long ago Sports in motion is a weird and useless appendage like a sixth toe and comes out of his own elbow such as when joining the recent Euro 2016 I was shocked to see on television that the velodrome stadium in Marseille how to quiet a roof that was no roof in 1998 So I says which I think you'll agree it has anyone ever made but I completely understand emotion view of sports looking down from space the Motions lost their heads off watching for example men in an unnaturally undulating Green Landscape selecting long sticks to his a tiny bowl a long way to go to hell then changing the stick to hit it a bit more slowly Paso
00:09:54then pass out again and then find it into the whole of this completely unnecessary operation take me about half an hour of precious life that could never be replaced I mean if you want to get why not just put the boat in the hole but here is the important question why would you want to anyway as it happens though we are not martians and they were human I space the sports which explain the fascination felt by many working alongside of the sports ranches I meant many purest types who lived her moments of sporting Transcendence when athletes turned from bottles in McDonald's well that was a thing and I salute them they'll have a pool at the Olympics past me however I was more interested in the emotional drama at the event the experience of The Spectator because to me the supremely important aspect of multiple old is that is washed no athletes how is a brilliant achieves day if occasion in the privacy of an empty Stadium Sport with no sekai
00:10:54when was paying to watch
00:10:56are you coming to be sniffy once you can what the fans are feeling yes the speck cases were exploited but they really don't see it that way the experience they pay for cools is mass anxiety which is why when I stopped writing about sport I stopped watching it too because being that damages I feel trapped expended quite enough Ariana Grande being two goes down with 12 seconds to go thank you very much but it's a need that she was clearly have to place our emotional well-being into the hands of books we don't know doing things that don't have to for amounts of money we count imagine that's what makes it necessary I'm having won't start completely strung out watching the semi-finals of the world professional darts Championship I think I know what I'm talking about
00:11:44dr. Hawkins Through The Eyes of a Martian you enjoy it sport could you watch raindrops attend
00:12:08there is one sporting fixture I can get excited about along with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world
00:12:18so here we are at 2 o'clock in the morning
00:12:22does perpetual Santa Claus game run around
00:12:26and the place is completely buzzing crying to people will pay a toll directions
00:12:35it's still like gangsta braids
00:12:39Oxford Circus on Christmas shopping day except his two o'clock in the morning and it's somebody just said get in the middle of France
00:12:51and the big banner saying welcome to the 24 hours of limo
00:13:06that's so French they just sharing the engine noise
00:13:11oh I'm the smell the smell effects of exhaust fumes
00:13:19okay so I like motosport but that's not important right now what's important is why is everybody else here these guys Robert White
00:13:34an amazing coincidence Olympics Winchester a racing circuits in France and what colors go round around for 24 hours why
00:13:53I suppose girl calls for a small part of it
00:14:09let me know what else you got going on right now after work right so they don't bother strange kind of sports fan there is no other race on the planet I didn't even for non Automotive enthusiasts like for example Skylar here is not I don't have a driver's license apologist watching everybody and guidance tomorrow
00:15:04yeah pretty much answer that question yet maybe one day I know somebody who can tell me why the eponymous presented of the podcast Gareth Jones on speed Gareth Jones 14 years ago if you find yourself anywhere on the 2nd when you get a Corvette going through that with a 7 liter V8 that actually wrestle the fillings in your teeth and growls and then you get a few years ago
00:15:50who are The Shining diesels and if you care for you listen you can hear the rule to see spending off the Angel video of the Wings you got this
00:16:00Sam pleasure part of the appeal that complex section of an account goes to race Pace you can see cuz you're close enough you can see the suspension wasn't she the deformation of the tires you can see the rooster tails of Morris just spending off the back you can see the glow of the disc brakes you can see how that come over he's managing to do what it does and it's like watching a gymnast concentrate and throw that position sensor
00:16:48so when you watching are you imagining that it's you driving with the Molson straight how you would gather it up before turning right Tattoo Lou's tricky the full chicken is when it's wax and oil yeah you picture yourself in that which is linked to knowing about the scale on the craft Ibis Victorious pleasure from imagining that it's you in the driving seat doing what you couldn't do in real life but those things apply equally well to dump so to Circle o lots of non competitive things if you don't care who wins why have a competition at all it's not that we don't care which one we care about the story of the place that we go and see a motor race it lasts 24 hours
00:17:48participating in the strategy of the game you become involved in the narrative when the rain she's over on Saturday afternoon Denise the podium World crying whoever want to see where the one you think is the way that the race played at this year was on the last lap the Toyota which was going to win the race broke down in the last 3 minutes and 20 seconds of the race went from not even classify cuz the way limo bus you have to be running at the end to win so I was all very happy for charity who finally after many years of trying with going to win the moment in which we approach you with Lauren
00:18:38it was exactly like Game of Thrones when I get over someone jumps out of window is beheaded and you weren't expecting that to happen the shock of the narrative cruel game
00:18:52so is that policy pills and the fact that the ending is not fixed and so you are going to be there at the moment when I see the Toyota van leeuwen all that car breaks down in Porsche when you don't know how it's going to play out there is no spoilers of a sudden he knows spoilers
00:19:21Nick Jarvis Jones Berrington Andrews reporter talked about the feeling of being part of the event I don't mean just watching it but actually in it putting himself mentally in the driving seat what do you think about that one yes I think it's could be an intriguing possibilities of evidence that the neural systems that far up when we watching sport have a lot of overlap with those that fire up when are the P for engaging in sports to the maybe a real sense in which with feeling some of the things that we seeing this would be a mechanism along these lines that you can studying using brain scanning methods
00:20:04the pleasure of thinking is something which you know his best experience from inside the head but in terms of which bits of the brain of doing what is near scientist we getting better at answering those questions and we can use brain Imaging techniques to find out which bits of the brain of more or less excited in different situations but we're beginning to discover is that the bit whose principle responsibility it is to make the body move is also used when you're seeing but even if you're completely stationary you'll using the base of the brain that would control your body if you were moving to help you see the movements of others as if we were doing them ourselves in order to help us predict better and then they dinner see better anticipate better what are the people are doing
00:21:04mirroring of what other people are doing seems to be quite a general property of brains we have good evidence for examples of the happens in the brains of monkeys and increasing evidence that it happens in the brains of humans to looking at it she just want the best food in kick the ball themselves isn't coming from the same Source you think for those of us who've been watching a lot of the stuff on television we see as much of the specktators movement soon as you say the managers movements as we do the sports people's movements I think there were two kinds of movement with seeing when we look at Spectators or will managers or coaches on the touchline oil in The Terraces what is this will to what we would say resonance where you can almost see the Leaning forward this to play Aliens for leaning back when the player leans back punching and concentration when the plaque concentrate
00:22:04relaxing when the play relaxing on this mirroring direct empathy we can study and then I think there are also other kinds of movement we can see which of the right to expressions of emotion and they're interesting to we know that when you see someone moving in a particular way so and by this I mean with particular emotional cost that emotion automatically resonates in you so Festival we can tell by looking whether someone is moving in a half Hillside way and secondly if someone's moving in a sideway anything just off to the Penalty Shootout The Good the losing team they walk across the page differently than the winning team just simply walking is done differently when you see that your brain generates the sound emotion in you actually what do you know this will not so even if you want to consciously aware that you watching someone sad you will feel sad yourself it's almost
00:23:04unconscious resonance between your own emotions system and the emotional system of the person you're looking at so that's one kind of what one might call emotional contagion this unwilling I'm waiting on known unconscious residents with the emotions of others but there's another interesting in terms of Spectators and that's the fact that our feelings as we watch Play-Doh throughout body soap television shorts at sporting events when they're looking at the specktators festival you can tell what that feeling from their body movements so if the team is doing well then there leaving up and down and throwing hands in the air and sharing and if that team is just lost them or is just messed up in some way they the slump down but here's the interesting thing this body expression of emotion is not just like a pressure gauge reads out the internal pressure of the person it's not simply signaling what they feel it's
00:24:04making them feel it as well so although the initial emotion happy or sad is generated from within the brain the full feeling of that within the spectator only happens when it's embodied in a situation where you can't express the emotion on your body you will feel the emotion differently even if you're not with other people even if you're alone in the flat when you see that goal scorer in leap up and shout you will feel happier about the go having being schooled but if you were near the weight of sleeping baby or in a library where you have to keep your body under control to the body doesn't just read out here emotion it actually helps you to fail it
00:24:53timandra Netflix stranger things together I'm very lost motivations with considered high others spring to mind tribalism the team all of that except that I keep coming back to these raindrops and where's the team in that but I am I pushing too hard and trying to reduce this to one mechanism do you think Nick construct see something to evolve slowly for one reason or another it could be quite multifarious so the thing I think about is a sport involving changing thing as changing to fit with the kinds of things that we enjoy and have very many and varied so that's what the pleasures we get from school will be many and varied to
00:25:51successfully is a broken is going round and round the wheels go round and round and round it is a freakish love it here is that I find the idea of watching somebody so I can grind for not filing your enthusiasm for it is completely adorable love spot in the washing things is purely. It's a social event
00:26:51Franklin classical music instead I just don't feel it by the excitement people taking sport but people like me just need to make that empathetic leave and take pleasure in other people's pleasure
00:27:17you can find many more programs to listen to One download at BBC. Co. Uk / Radio 4

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