Cutting Off Reflective Failure: Sounds Good Explores the Phenomenon of CORFing

Oct 17, 2019

Two weeks ago, Tracy Ross and Murray State professor of psychology, Dan Wann, discussed BIRGing, or basking in reflective glory. This week, Wann returns to the studio to discuss the opposite phenomenon: CORFing, or cutting off reflective failure.

"To refresh the minds of the listeners, with "basking in reflective glory," we're going to increase our association with a successful group. From the realm of sport fandom, we're going to increase our association with a successful team," Wann explains. "So if the team's doing well, we'll buy more jerseys and wear them. If the team's doing well, we'll let everyone know that we have an association and interest in that team because if we associate with a winner, we appear to be a winner to others."

"When they first did this research, they looked to see how many people were wearing a successful sports team. After that team would win...people would increase the likelihood of wearing identifying apparel. In terms of cutting off reflective failure, when that college football team had lost the most recent game, the percent of students wearing university identifying apparel went down. When they were asked in this phone interview to describe the most recent contest, and it was a game that the team had lost, [the students] tended to phrase it in terms of 'they.' 'They' lost, 'they' got beat, 'they' didn't play well. Now you're talking about the other side of the coin from BIRGing," Wann continues. "CORFing, where we're simply going to decrease our association, at least publicly, we're going to decrease our association in a way that then cuts off the failure of this other group. Again, we're known by the company we keep, and we're aware of the fact that we're known by the company we keep. So if I affiliate with people that have failed or somehow seen as losers, I'm thinking to myself, well, you know, my affiliation might make it look like I, too, am a loser. So we cut off our relationship and sort of take ourselves out of that situation where it may negatively impact both the perception others have of us and then how we ourselves feel about our own personal relationship with this sports team."

"Expectancies play a huge role in reactions by sports fans. Whether it's their cognitive reaction to things that they're thinking, their affective reactions or emotions, or their behavioral actions, the things that they do. Expectancies are huge," Wann says. These expectancies translate into fluxes in emotional response based on the type of win or loss the team experienced. "It's in those scenarios where the team doesn't make expectations or it's one of those toss-up games where you don't really know what's going to go on victory-wise prior to the event, and then you lose, that's where you're like 'yeah, I don't really want to be affiliated with this team.' Fans are really upset when their team gets knocked out in the end...much more anguish for fans if the team that beats you is a team that was not supposed to beat you. If a team beats you that's supposed to, or is at least an even match up, then you can always say, 'hey, look, they're really good, too. It's not that we didn't play well, it's that they played really well.' You can come up with your explanation for the outcome based on how they are as opposed to 'we're awful.'"

When asked what was more powerful, a great win or a horrible loss, Wann references research on negative emotions within sport fandoms described in his book, Sports Fans: The Psychology of Social Impact and Fandom, co-written with Jeffrey Dalton James. "If you look at the literature, there's a couple of possibilities. About two-thirds of the emotions that were discussed were negative emotions. Is it that fans really do have more negativity in their emotional responses to sport? Two possibilities."

"The negativity bias is simply our tendency to have negative things stand out. The things that happen to us that go wrong, they really sit there in our memory for a very long time. If you take a multiple-choice test that has fifty questions and you get a 98, the one thing you will remember for the rest of your life is the one thing you'll miss. So from the fan perspective, maybe it's not that we really are experiencing more negative emotions, maybe it's just that we remember those negative emotions more powerfully. That's one possibility," Wann says. 

"If you look at the literature, if you look at the work that's done, it suggests that...the fan experience is actually more negative than it is positive, at least in terms of intensity of the emotional response," Wann continues. "[Sloan], years ago, conducted a couple of studies where he looked at pre-game emotional state and post-game emotional state. He looked at it for three different types of wins in college sports: an easy win, this expected win as we were discussing earlier; a win that was a hard-fought win, so a toss-up game that the team wins, a difficult win; and then, a loss. What he found was that the positive emotions went up a little bit and the negative emotions went down a little bit in the easy win. They went up a bit more for the positive and the negative, down a bit more, for the difficult win. And after the loss, the positive emotions went way down and the negative emotions went way up. The lines as you look at the graph in this article, they're actually kind of humorous, because you can see that they felt really bad when the team lost, and they felt pretty good when the team won."

"One might ask, well, why would that be the case? Let's think about a sports fan walking into an athletic event. They're probably already in a good mood. So the positive effect doesn't have as much room to go when the team wins. 'Do you like going to Racer basketball games? I sure do. What kind of mood are you in when you walk into the basketball arena? I'm in a good mood. When they win, I'm in a better mood. When they lose, it's catastrophic because there's so much more room to move down.' I always like to quote James Bond, who often says in the movies and in the books, 'in some strange ways, the gain to the winner is less than the loss to the loser.' It's loss aversion, it's just economics. When we have something that we have lost, that seems to be more intense than gaining the same amount. Sport fans appear, in some situations, to do the exact same things. We like the wins, we hate the losses," Wann concludes.