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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Ask Ms. Scientist: sports fanatics and caffeine

Dear Ms. Scientist,

Is there any science as to why some people get so emotionally involved while watching a sports game?

Jacob R.

There aren’t many fans as dedicated to their object of obsession as sports fans. Being Badgers here at UW-Madison we can all attest to this: When the team wins, it feels like a win for all; same goes for a loss. The team is our team. There is, in fact, some science as to why we feel so attached to our teams. When one witnesses their team win, their testosterone levels spike. Increased testosterone may account for an individual’s increased aggression. Additionally, seeing your team perform well may lead to a dopamine rush. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure centers. Hence, excess dopamine means excess pleasure. Most interestingly, mirror neurons, or certain cells in the brain’s premotor cortex, may ignite while watching a sports game. These mirror neurons are what cause an individual to feel empathy and hence, a fan may feel more emotionally attached to the game when these mirror neurons are activated. Specifically, fans may internalize what they see and feel as if they are playing the game themselves. Mirror neurons have memorized all of your previous actions. When you witness something familiar, they go off and you understand everything associated with that action, including all of the emotions. Watching a player score a touchdown, thanks to your mirror neurons, causes you to feel as if you are scoring a touchdown, and that’s why a fan becomes so emotionally involved.

Dear Ms. Scientist,

What are the dangers of drinking too much coffee?

Spencer O.

Drink more than two cups of coffee and your body may begin to feel tricked by the effects of caffeine. Consuming excess amounts of caffeine not only stimulates your brain but your muscles and heart as well. Even before you finish your first cup, which contains 95 milligrams of caffeine, your heart rate increases. After a few more cups, your muscles may spasm and you may become restless. Vision impairment is also a symptom of high caffeine consumption. The upper eyelid may twitch, light sensitivity becomes an issue and vision may become blurred. Consuming more than 1,000 milligrams of caffeine and, well, your mind may start to become caffeine’s new home. Those who regularly consume this high amount are at risk for symptoms similar to anxiety disorders. Hallucinations and delusions are also possible for those who consume such high levels of caffeine. This is because caffeine is a psychoactive drug. However, studies have shown that consumers who have heard auditory hallucinations were quite stressed prior to drinking so much coffee; in other words, a person’s current state should also be taken into account. Long term, osteoporosis, or the weakening of the bones, may be brought on by extreme caffeine consumption. Drinking too much coffee can break down tooth enamel, dehydrate your body and affect your sleep patterns. A strong cup is a great way to start the morning or give you a boost in the afternoon, but be careful about how much caffeine you’re actually drinking.  

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Ask Ms. Scientist is written by Julie Spitzer. If you have a burning science question you want her to answer, email it to

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