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Erin Cooper ’17 (left) and Isabel Detienne ’18 (right) work in the lab with Michelle Schoenleber (Psychology).

Packers Fan Study Broadens Its Scope

The Green Bay Packers are one of the unique franchises in all of professional sports. Many Packers fans own stock in the team, which in turn, doesn’t have a deep-pockets owner. Shares of stock include voting rights, but no dividends are ever paid, the stock cannot appreciate in value, and there are no season-ticket privileges associated with stock ownership. Shareholders do get the title of “NFL owner,” bragging rights, and a community of like-minded individuals who love nothing better than to grab a beverage, some cheese and chips and watch a game. 

Packers fans are everywhere. Just take in a road game to test this theory! But are Packers fans really better than those who support other teams in the National Football League (NFL)?

Michelle Schoenleber (Psychology) has gone looking for answers. As a researcher, Schoenleber is exploring the qualities, experiences and behaviors of football fans – especially, but not limited to, Green Bay Packers fans. She started tackling questions about Packers fandom scientifically, recruiting 156 Packers fans from 23 states last year to tell her about themselves and about how they respond to Packers games in real time, among other things. So what did she learn? 

“We’re not totally different, but we may not be just like everyone else, either,” Schoenleber says. “I started by comparing Packers fans’ personalities with pre-existing data collected by other researchers from a nationally representative sample, allowing me to look for differences with regard to what psychologists call the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. You can remember them as OCEAN: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. When it comes to two of these traits – conscientiousness and extraversion – Packers fans in my study were just like everyone else.”

But there were also differences. Schoenleber found that younger Packers fans (under age 30) were more likely to fall into the Agreeable category but less to be found in the Openness category than people of similar ages in the general population. In other words, these fans were especially kind, trusting and modest, but they were also fairly conventional and had narrower interests overall than young adults in the United States generally. 

Packers fans age 40 to 49 shared this tendency toward conventionality and a narrower range of interests. But Schoenleber found a further difference – Packers fans of most ages were less neurotic than the general population. In other words, Packers fans reported being more emotionally stable and better able to cope with stressors than did the people in the nationally representative sample. 

Clearly, the research on Packers fans is not complete. There are many more questions to ask, and so Schoenleber’s lab at St. Norbert has launched a further study. Schoenleber has recruited a team of student research assistants to help. 

This NFL season they’re looking for fans to tell them about their team-related traditions. Which traditions are most common? How important are traditions to the fans? Would it make fans uncomfortable if they were prevented from engaging in their traditions? 

“I am excited to learn more about the reactions of fans and what their traditions look like compared to that of the general population,” says Erin Cooper ’17, a double major in psychology and Spanish. 

Isabel Detienne ’18, a double major in art and psychology, finds it interesting that “this study targets behavior patterns of a specific group that aren’t looked at very often in research.” 

The students are also thrilled about the hands-on experience the NFL research will provide. Psychology major Amanda Schmidt ’19 says, “I know that the work in the lab will help me be better-equipped down the line as far as working with specific research tools. In addition, I know that it will help me become more familiar with working in a lab setting and understanding the process of a study from start to finish.” And psych major Kirsten Umbach ’17 agrees: “I plan to work with children in a counseling/therapy setting in the future. Being in this lab is giving me relevant experiences that I will need to be successful in a graduate program.”

Interested in contributing to the fan study? It’s not too late to sign up.

Oct. 4, 2016