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Language, social comparison, and college football: is your school less similar to the rival school than the rival school is to your school?

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Rivalries may affect ingroup and outgroup (rival or nonrival) representations as well as students' identification with their home school. This study examines how subtle linguistic changes in question comparison, between the home school and another school, rival or nonrival, and between the self and other home school students, provide access to changes in these cognitive representations. Data were collected shortly before a rival football game or during a nongame week. The linguistic changes, manipulations in the direction of comparison (e.g., home school to rival school vs. rival school to home school), were designed from Tversky's (1977) model of similarity judgment. The results suggest that sport rivalries increase students' perceptions of unique features of home school students, but do not increase perceptions of unique (even unique, negative) features of rival school students. The increase in ingroup unique features before a rivalry game is strong enough to reverse the usual observation that the self is seen as less similar to others than others are to the self. Applications and implications for question design, e.g., sports polls, and this central topic of campus community conversations is discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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