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Watching Events Together Produces Stronger Emotions says new study.

July 9, 2014

Toronto - The 2014 World Cup has captured the attention of billions of viewers around the globe. For a short period of time, the world has collectively watching the same events on a massive scale. New research from the University of Tennessee suggests that it is the shared attention that makes these games so emotionally compelling. In a collaborative effort with researchers from the University of Toronto, University of Tennessee, MIT, Columbia University, and Northwestern University, emotional events were found to be more intense when viewed simultaneously with other group members.

“Watching an event together with a group has a powerful impact on the way we process information” says Garriy Shteynberg, the study’s lead author. “We tend to pay more attention and feel the experience more deeply, leading it to have a more lasting impact on us.”

Across five studies, published in the journal Emotion, the researchers found that watching an event simultaneously with a group produced stronger emotional reactions than when watching the same event alone, or watching it even a minute apart. Regardless of whether the initial event was a positive or negative one, these feelings were more intense when there was joint attention on the event.

“Group attention effectively intensified the emotional experiences of the study participants,” explains Jacob Hirsh, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga's Institute for Management & Innovation and the UofT’s Rotman School of Management.   “It made people happier in response to positive information and sadder in response to negative information.”

Do other people need to be physically present for this effect to work? “Not necessarily”, says Evan Apfelbaum of MIT. “Simply knowing that other people are watching the same event can have the same impact, even if they are not physically next to you.” Even when watching the latest match on your own, the emotional impact will be stronger when you think about the fact that so many other people are watching it at the same time with you.

What about when you watch the games after everyone else has?  The research suggests that emotional experience will only be heightened when attending to events with others simultaneously. “The effect of shared attention is only present when you are watching at the same time as others,” says Jeff Larsen from the University of Tennessee. “If you are watching after the fact, you don’t get the same effects.”

Are these effects ephemeral or do they influence social behavior? “These shared emotional experiences also have effects on our behavior,” explains Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School. For example, study participants were more likely to donate money to a charity after jointly viewing a video about homelessness compared to when watching it alone.

What does this mean for the World Cup? “Shared attention helps drive the excitement of a massive event like this,” suggests Neal Roese of Northwestern University. “We feel the events more intensely because we know that we are watching it with our fellow fans regardless of where they are around the globe.”

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