COR/Merage School Talk
“Explaining Identification with Relatively Low-Prestige Collectives: A Study of Nascar Fans”
Professor Kimberly Elsbach, University of California, Davis
Friday, October 30, 2015
SB1 5100 Corporate Partners Executive Boardroom
Through a series of studies, we examined why fans identified with the relatively low prestige collective known as NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). Anecdotal evidence and our own pilot research indicated that NASCAR was viewed as relatively low in Perceived External Prestige (a validated measure that has been shown to be the strongest predictor of collective identification across dozens of empirical studies) compared to most collectives in empirical studies of identification. In a first study, involving qualitative analysis of archival data, interviews, and observation of NASCAR experts and fans, we found evidence that identification with NASCAR was predicted, primarily, by what we call fan’s Perceived Opportunity for Authentic Self-Expression with NASCAR (i.e., the perception that fans could be their true selves when interacting with NASCAR). Further, we found that NASCAR fans identified with the collective because it provided the opportunity to self-express in relation to the specific value of patriotism which fans claimed was an important personal value that was difficult to affirm in other contexts. In a second, longitudinal study, involving three large-scale surveys of NASCAR fans, we confirmed that fans identification with NASCAR was predicted more strongly by Perceived Opportunity for Authentic Self-Expression with NASCAR vs. Perceived External Prestige. In turn, identification with NASCAR predicted fans collective-supporting behaviors, such as watching NASCAR races and recommending NASCAR to friends. Together, these findings suggest that individuals may strongly identify with relatively low-prestige collectives because those collectives allow them to express important, but difficult-to-affirm values that are part of their authentic or true selves. We discuss the implications of these findings for theories of collective identification.