The tribal character of the affective link between football fans and their teams is a well-recognized phenomenon. Other forms of love such as romantic or maternal attachment have previously been studied from a neuroimaging point of view. Here we aimed to investigate the neural basis of this tribal form of love, which implies both the feeling of belongingness and rivalry against opposing teams. A pool of 56 participants was submitted to an fMRI experimental design involving the presentation of winning and losing football moments of their loved, rival or neutral teams. We found recruitment of amygdala and reward regions, including the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra (SN), as well as other limbic regions involved in emotional cognition, for ‘positive vs neutral’ and ‘positive vs negative’ conditions. The latter contrast was correlated with neuropsychological scores of fanaticism in the amygdala and regions within the reward system, as the VTA and SN. The observation of increased response patterns in critical components of the reward system, in particular for positive content related to the loved team, suggests that this kind of non-romantic love reflects a specific arousal and motivational state, which is biased for emotional learning of positive outcomes.
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