Image of Taylor Swift wearing a Kansas City Chiefs jacket.

Pop Culture Psychology

Pop Culture Psychology

Despite the tremendous buzz about Taylor Swift at Kansas City Chiefs football games this season, does seeing images of the pop singer actually affect people’s feelings about the NFL? Professor of Psychology Steven Fein and his students conducted research to try to answer this question, as well as to identify which kinds of people are the most negatively affected by her appearances.

For his Experimentation and Statistics class, Fein, with support from Ryan Smith, the psychology department’s technical assistant, recruited 500 people from around the United States to participate in an online study. They were asked to look at a variety of images from NFL games, including football action and cheering fans. Photographs for some viewers included a few images of Taylor Swift at a game (the singer is dating Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce) or a few images of anti-racist messages—for example, the words “Black Lives Matter” printed on decals on the backs of players’ helmets (an initiative the NFL instituted several years ago). Participants were then asked to rate their enjoyment of the NFL.

Those who self-identified as politically conservative rated their enjoyment of the NFL as significantly less if their photos included images of Taylor Swift or social justice messages than if neither of these kinds of images appeared. Self-identified liberals’ enjoyment of the NFL did not change based on the images they saw.

Fein and his students surveyed another 250 individuals about how they felt about the presence of Taylor Swift at NFL games. Responses ranged from very positive to very negative. The survey was designed to see which kinds of differences among people would best predict their attitudes about Taylor Swift at the games.

A close-up image of Philadelphia Eagle player's helmet with a Black Lives Matter decal.
Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts wears a Black Lives Matter decal on the back of his helmet.

The factors that best correlated with negative feelings about Taylor Swift at games included political conservatism, belief in conspiracies, sexism, being opposed to following trends in society, spending less time on social media, disliking the brand Bud Light (compared to Coors Light) and not rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. Men were more negative about the singer’s presence than were women, and age was not a significant predictor of their attitudes.

Also, the large majority of individuals strongly overestimated how much time Taylor Swift appears on camera during games, and they were especially likely to do this if they disliked her presence.

“I think that these studies demonstrate that, for many people, seeing TV coverage of Taylor Swift at NFL games does make them enjoy football less,” Fein says. “But the reasons for that vary. For some people, they simply don’t like the distraction away from the action. But given that she typically is shown for less than a half minute per three-hour telecast, and given how often random fans are shown cheering wildly—or that other celebrities ranging from Jack Nicholson to Drake have gotten a lot of camera time at sports games over the years—there’s more to it than just that for most people. Sexism, political ideology and belief in conspiracies are among the factors that may fuel the anti-Swift feelings.”

Photo, above: AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File

Top photo: AP Photo/Ed Zurga