Both testosterone and cortisol levels increased for Spaniards who watched as Spain beat Holland during the 2010 World Cup. 

In this study, they analyzed the psychobiological response of men and women watching sports - when the competition’s outcome, victory or defeat, is basically out of their control. Fifty supporters of the Spanish team watched the final in a public space or at home, with their families or friends. The researchers asked for their expectations and feelings before the match, and they checked their testosterone and cortisol levels before, during and after the match.

Testosterone, status hormone, increases when facing a competitive situation which can defy the social status of the contenders. In line with this, the results of the study showed that the Spanish supporters’ testosterone levels were higher during match day than on a different day. But exposure to a physical stresser triggers the increase of cortisol hormone, which is the stress hormone, and which also changes with threats to social status, they say. The cortisol levels were higher on match day than on a different day also. Researchers suggest the the World Cup final match meant a threat to the ‘social entity’ of the supporters, because the social status of the supporters was associated with the result of the match and the performance of the players at that moment.

Mean (± s.e.m.) testosterone levels at 20∶15, 21∶20 and 23∶15 (CET) during the match and control day depicted for male (1A) and female (1B) fans. Credit: Universitat de València 

The stress levels were different depending on the person. The most passionate supporters suffered from higher stress. Watching the match was most stressful for men, correlated to their interest in football. The most passionate supporters experienced the highest increase in cortisol during the match and found the match much more stressful. The youngest supporters had more cortisol than older ones as well.

The group also did studies using different sports, like judo and basketball, to try and assess the importance of motivation, cognitive assessment, and expectations when someone attends a competition.They laid out the psychobiological response of people when facing a competition but who are not participating because they say it heightens the importance of the social factor in human behavior.

Citation: van der Meij L, Almela M, Hidalgo V, Villada C, IJzerman H, et al. (2012) Testosterone and Cortisol Release among Spanish Soccer Fans Watching the 2010 World Cup Final. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34814. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034814