Yankee Fans Misjudge Miles to Boston Due to Perceived Threat

By Chelsea Whyte on June 18, 2012 9:05 PM EDT

yankee logo on statue of liberty
Think you know your geography? Yankees fan misjudge the distance to Boston's Fenway Park because of a perceived threat from the Red Sox. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Keep your friends close, your enemies closer. That's how the saying goes, right? Well, there may be something to that when it comes to the psyche, according to a new psychological study of baseball fans.

Researchers from New York University found that New York Yankees fans incorrectly perceive Fenway Park, home to the archrival Boston Red Sox, as closer to New York City than the Baltimore Orioles' stadium, Camden Yards.

Previous scholarship has shown that people categorize themselves on the basis of an individual identity, a collective identity, or both, depending on the social and motivational context-a process known as self-categorization, reports Futurity.org.

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And earlier studies have shown that categorical labels make people exaggerate perceived distance between arbitrary categories, according to Medical Daily.

The researchers, led by Jenny Xiao and Jay Van Bavel from the department of psychology at New York University, hypothesized that if one's identity is threatened, biological tendencies may kick in.

"Biologists have found that it is usually more adaptive for organisms to respond to potential threats as if they are truly threatening than to fail to respond," wrote the study's co-authors. "So, it's possible that certain threats to people's collective identities may trigger similar defensive reactions, such as reducing estimations of physical distance between the in-group and a threatening out-group-what we term the threat hypothesis."

So they put it to the test before a Yankees-Mets game by interviewing Yankee fans and non-Yankee fans outside of Yankee Stadium on June 18-19, 2010. At the time of the interviews, the Yankees led the American League East with the Boston Red Sox in a close second at just one game behind them, and the Baltimore Orioles taking last place in the league at 23 games behind the Yankees.

First, participants were asked a series of questions to determine if they were Yankees fans threatened by the Red Sox, or if they weren't rooting for the boys in pinstripes, and therefore felt no threat from the Boston team.

Then, they were asked to estimate the distance from Yankee Stadium to both Fenway Park (actual distance = 190 miles) and Camden Yards (actual distance = 170 yards). Participants either answered in miles or pointed to a spot on a map of the northeastern United States to identify the parks' locations.

The results, which took into account participants' geographical expertise, showed that the Yankee fans who perceived the Red Sox as threatening estimated that Fenway Park was marginally closer than Camden Yards, while non-Yankee fans correctly identified the Baltimore stadium as closer to New York.

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