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Mental Health

Fantasy Football Has Been Linked to Poor Mental Health

— January 12, 2022

Study shows that mental health is impacted negatively by fantasy football.

A study from Nottingham Trent University, published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, examined the mental health of fantasy football (FF) players and found that playing can lead to a decline in mental health, which worsens substantially with greater use.

The team reported, “fantasy football has become a huge and global game and continues to grow each year.  Despite this, little is known about the positive and negative mental effects involvement in fantasy football may have on individuals.”  In order to take a closer look, a survey was taken by 1,995 individuals recorded their engagement with the game, including “time spent playing, researching and thinking about fantasy football” and the effect it had on “mood, social adjustment and habits.”

A fifteen-minute questionnaire was administered to assesses the “thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and experiences” of users with regards to their fantasy football use.  The survey’s respondents came from 96 countries and the average age of those who participated was 33.  Nearly all (96%) of the respondents were male.

Fantasy Football Has Been Linked to Poor Mental Health
Photo by Joseph Redfield from Pexels

Almost a quarter of study participants said playing caused them to experience “at least a mild low mood” and that number doubled with heavy use.  Low mood was reported by “44% of those who spent more than 45 minutes playing, more than 60 minutes researching and more than 120 minutes thinking about fantasy football a day.”  Nearly twenty-one percent “spent more than 45 minutes a day playing; 34% of heavy users said the game caused them at least mild anxiety (compared with 20% of all players) and 37% said it disrupted their lives, causing what the researchers called functional impairment.”

Researchers found that the involvement of social media added a “myriad of complex cognitive and social psychological processes that may negatively impact one’s mental health.”  These activities can be addictive as can video games, which were included in the study.  The team observed, in fantasy football, there is “a relative lack of control over outcomes…something which has been identified as a risk factor in mental health.”

Dr Luke Wilkins, the lead researcher and an expert in sport and exercise psychology in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said, “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.”

The authors concluded in their paper, “The present study has provided a first, exploratory step into the mental health of individuals who play FF.  The results have revealed that whilst incidence of low mood, anxiety, functional impairment, and problematic behavior may be low overall (13.6%–24.6%), when constrained to only those with high levels of engagement in FF, these numbers rise considerably (34.3%–43.0%)…Interestingly, greater experience in FF led to reduced (that is, better) mental health scores.”


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