It’s June, 2010, in New York City. The Yankees are in first place in the American League East. The Red Sox are in second, and the poor Baltimore Orioles, well, they’re dead last. Walking into Yankee Stadium for a game against the Mets, you’re stopped by a researcher, who asks you: How far away is the Sox’s stadium, Fenway Park? And how far away is the Orioles’ Camden Yards?
If you’re a die-hard Yankees fan, you estimate that Fenway, home of a hated rival, is closer. If you’re an objective party, just out for a nice day of baseball, with no particular loyalty to the Yankees, you get the answer right.
You estimate that Camden Yards (170 miles away) is closer than Fenway Park (190 miles away).
Those were the results from a New York University study about collective identification and identity threat. As a rule, there’s an adaptive value in assuming potential threats pose a real danger. And the NYU researchers say the Yankees fans were following a similar principle by reporting that the enemy Red Sox, nipping at their team’s heels, were physically closer than a non-threatening team.
“Our research, then, suggests that we keep our enemies psychologically closer by changing our representation of the physical world, in this case, physical distance,” doctoral candidate Jenny Xio said in a statement.
The Yankees did come out on top of the Red Sox that year, although they lost the last game of the season to their Boston rivals. The Tampa Bay Rays clinched the division, though. No information is available on the psychological distance between New York, Massachusetts and Florida, however.
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