Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir compete in the Figure Skating Ice Dance Short Program during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea on February 19, 2018. The skill and artistic beauty are attractions for many fans. PHOTO: CP/HO-COC/Vaughn Ridley

Why do we watch sports?


The Olympics are almost at an end, and millions of people will have been watching on TVs around the world, in addition to those who made the effort to actually travel to the event.

Playing sports is one thing, but why watch somebody else doing it?

And, why do some people get so intensely involved?

Jim Davies (PhD) Professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University,  Director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory, and author.


Professor Davies points out that in some cases we simply enjoy the aesthetics of it as in ice dance or synchronized swimming.

Jim Davies (PhD) professor of Cognitive Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa

He says often its also a case of being enthralled by the drama. Often when one team for example is completely dominating another, people will stop watching the TV or even begin leaving the stadium as the outcome is almost certain. That’s not the case with a close match.

While animals and birds “play”, what they’re doing is learning survival skills. Children play and they’re also learning life lessons, how to act and react in various situations.

Other strong attractions of high level sports are the demonstrations of great skill, and the drama. PHOTO: via CBC

Sports may have originally evolved from human survival needs. Team sports may have developed to some extent as way to determine an outcome rather than go to war

Surprisingly, Davies points out that when we watch sports certain parts of the brain are activated as if we were doing the action ourselves. Watching a runner for example will activate certain of those parts of the brain connected with running but without going as far as to send signals to move the muscles.

People also watch sports to help improve their own skills. Watching how a top level athlete performs particular moves can lead people to try the move for themselves and improve their own playing.

Then there’s the aspect of territory, or tribalism perhaps when fans of team say, that’s my team from my place, playing for me.

And of course, Davies says, you can’t leave out the aesthetics. Some sports while certainly athletic and skilful, are simply beautiful to watch, such as that of the artistic skating competitions at the Olympics, another international sport fiesta about to end this weekend.

Jim Davies- Feb 2/18:  5 Reasons we can’t do without sports

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