This week, millions of Americans are obsessing over a game.
The results of the game will directly affect just a few hundred players and team staff. But millions of spectators will live vicariously through the teams, their hearts pounding so furiously during tense moments that they might literally suffer heart attacks.
I'm talking, of course, about the Super Bowl. But the same thing goes on every week of the year for one sport or another. Our widespread obsession with sports is a bit mystifying. Why do so many of us care about wins and losses that, ultimately, don't change our lives?
Scientists still don't have a full answer, but they've been working on it, and this ASAP Science video explores some of what they've found.
Among other things, they've learned that watching your team win leads testosterone levels in your brain to rise, likely fueling feelings of aggression — much as it does in other animal species during bouts of competition.
Other research, meanwhile, has highlighted the role of mirror neurons: specialized brain cells that seem to activate whether you carry out an action (say, shooting a basketball) or merely watch another person do it. This may be what allows us to live vicariously through an athlete we're watching on TV.
Further reading: This is your brain on sports