It’s that time again… When Super Bowl Sunday dominates the U.S. headlines, and people plan their Sunday evenings around a get-together, party, or the game. It’s also a good time to look at two stories related to Super Bowl Sunday.
The first is the largely debunked myth that domestic violence calls spike around Super Bowl Sunday and other drinking holidays of the year (like New Year’s). Snopes originally tracked down the myth and showed it to be nothing more than another urban legend. Since their last update on the myth in 2005, however (and our article 4 years ago), there’s been further research examining the myth.
A 2007 study by Oths & Robertson examined 2,387 crisis call records covering a previous 3-year period. They supplemented the call records with both formal and informal interviews with abused women and staff. What did they find?
The widely held belief that more women seek shelter during “drinking holidays” such as New Year’s and the Super Bowl was unsubstantiated, while the contention that women with school-aged children time their leaving to coincide with breaks in the academic schedule was supported.
What about other mental health issues, like suicide? Do they spike on Super Bowl Sundays? Psychologist Thomas Joiner had a hypothesis about serious suicidal behavior — that the need to belong is so powerful that, when satisfied, it can prevent suicide. Joiner and fellow researchers (2006) investigated whether perceived membership in a valued group — like a sports team — meets that “need to belong” and can negate suicidal tendencies. They found that, indeed, fewer suicides occurred on Super Bowl Sundays than during non-Super Bowl Sundays. So no spike there either.
What about other behaviors surrounding Super Bowl Sunday, like driving fatalities? On Super Bowl Sundays, compared to non-Super Bowl Sundays, Redelmeier & Stewart (2003) found a 41% relative increase in the average number of fatalities after the telecast on Super Bowl Sunday. So if there’s one piece of actionable advice you can take from the research, it’s to be very careful driving home after a Super Bowl Sunday get-together or party.
But in my opening, I said “largely debunked” myth. That’s because there is one set of data that has found a connection between football and domestic violence, and in turn, Super Bowl Sunday. However, that data was not published in a peer-reviewed journal — the usual standard for research — so it should be taken with a grain of salt. The study appeared in the Handbook of Sports and Media (Gantz et al., 2006) and examined domestic violence police dispatches by day in 15 NFL cities, which resulted in 26,192 days worth of data (and 1,366,518 domestic violence calls). The researchers found a tiny positive effect for a rise in domestic violence dispatches on or after Super Bowl Sunday. By comparison, they found a much bigger effect for a rise in domestic violence calls around major holidays like Christmas though — nearly fives times as many. So while they did find a small but significant relationship there, it must be tempered by the fact that this was never peer-reviewed research and that most major holidays throughout the year have a much bigger domestic violence impact.
Last, two years ago we reported that watching the Super Bowl may be hazardous to your health. In that article, we noted research published in the New England Journal of Medicine that examined 4,279 heart cases that occurred during the World Cup games. The researchers found that men’s risk of having a heart attack was 3x higher while watching their team play, while women’s risk was 2x higher. Something to keep in mind while watching the game this year — be aware of heart attack symptoms and take them seriously if your heart suddenly doesn’t feel right.
Enjoy the game! We will.
Gantz, W., Bradley, S.D. & Wang, Z. (2006). Televised NFL Games, the Family, and Domestic Violence. In: Handbook of sports and media. Raney, Arthur A. (Ed.); Bryant, Jennings (Ed.); Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, pp. 365-381.
Joiner, T.E., Jr., Hollar, D. & Van Orden, K. (2006). On Buckeyes, Gators, Super Bowl Sunday, and the Miracle on Ice: ‘Pulling together’ is associated with lower suicide rates. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 25(2), 179-195.
Oths, K.S. & Robertson, T. (2007). Give me shelter: Temporal patterns of women fleeing domestic abuse. Human Organization, 66(3), 249-260.
Redelmeier, DA & Stewart, CL. (2003). Driving fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday. The New England Journal of Medicine, 348(4), 368-369.