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Fantasy football fanatics more likely to feel down and anxious, study suggests

Those who invest the most time playing, researching and thinking about their fantasy football teams have significantly worse mental health than other players of the online game as a result, a new study suggests.

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Those who invest the most time on their fantasy football teams were more likely to feel down and anxious

Sport psychologists at Nottingham Trent University found that players who engaged most with fantasy football were more likely to suffer from low mood and anxiety when playing or thinking about the game.

They were also more likely to report disruption to their everyday lives as a result of their fantasy football, such as at work, in their home life and with personal relationships.

The researchers gathered information from about 2,000 fantasy football players for the study, who played across a range of different platforms.

It is thought to be the first study to look at mental health of those who play fantasy football, where individuals are able to create their own virtual team of players to earn points and compete against others.

It is a rapidly growing pastime, played by millions globally – the downloading of fantasy gaming apps worldwide is predicted to hit 258 billion in 2022.

The study, done via online questionnaire, showed that while the majority of players experienced no mental health concerns regarding their fantasy football, there were significant correlations between poor mental health and players’ levels of engagement.

The researchers found that while only a quarter (25%) of participants overall reported mild low mood – which can include sadness, anger, frustration, tiredness and low self-esteem – when playing, researching or thinking about the game, this increased to almost half (44%) among high engagement players.

Similarly, mild anxiety rose from a fifth of participants (20%) to more than a third (34%) and functional impairment – disruption to players’ lives – more than doubled from 14% overall to 37% in players who spent most time engaging with the game.

High engagement was classified as those who played in six or more leagues concurrently, played for more than 45 minutes a day, researched for more than an hour a day – such as listening to podcasts or browsing social media for fantasy football content – or spent more than two hours a day thinking about their fantasy football.

Interestingly, the team also found that increased experience in fantasy football – when an individual had been playing for 11 years or more – had the opposite effect, with players reporting significantly better mental health than those that had been playing for a shorter amount of time.

The researchers suggest this could be because those able to better manage their mental health may continue to play the game, or because players had been able to develop various coping mechanisms to deal with the highs and lows of the game.

They argue that more should be done – by the game developers and the players themselves – to monitor the amount of time being dedicated to fantasy football.

“Browsing social media we could see there was an abundance of anecdotal evidence linking fantasy football with mental health concerns, but no research had ever explored the issue,” said lead researcher Dr Luke Wilkins, an expert in sport and exercise psychology in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology.

He said: “While it’s positive that only a minority report mental health issues in relation to their fantasy football, it is concerning that higher levels of engagement appear to increase the likelihood of experiencing issues with mood and anxiety and seem to be having a negative impact on players’ lives.

“Fantasy football is unwinnable for the vast majority that play and it is possible that the more a person is invested the more negatively impacted they will be when they ‘lose’.

“Our study highlights the general positives that the game can bring, but also warns of the potential negatives, and provides justification for the idea that more should be done to monitor the amount of time being dedicated to playing fantasy football.”

Participants in the study were from 96 nationalities, had an average age of 33 and the vast majority (96%) were male.

The researchers are carrying out further work focusing on a group of high-engaged fantasy football players and tracking the mental health of players over the course of a Premier League season.

The current study, which also involved Newman University, Anglia Ruskin University and Derwent Rural Counselling Service, is published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies.

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    NTU was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards). It was the University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is one of the UK’s largest universities, with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 4,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries.

    In the past 15 years, NTU has invested £450 million in tools, technology and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2019 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is 4th globally (and 3rd in the UK) for sustainability in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Fantasy football fanatics more likely to feel down and anxious, study suggests

Published on 6 January 2022
  • Subject area: Sciences including sport sciences
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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