Cialdini, R. B., et al. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 366-375.
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The idea of associating oneself with successful others was described by Cialdini and his co-authors as a relatively "true to life" theoretical phenomenon without much empirical support. In this classic article, the tendency to "bask in reflected glory (BIRG)" or associate oneself publicly with successful others was investigated by using a series of experiments with football fans from large prestigious football schools (e.g., Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame). In an attempt to demonstrate BIRGing, the researchers conducted a field experiment (in large lecture halls across 7 different schools) where they observed student clothing/apparel on a Monday following a big football game. The researchers found that students tended to wear more apparel associating themselves with their own university (e.g., jersey or sweatshirt) when the football team won compared to when they lost. Based on these findings, the researchers sought to further understanding BIRGing effects and did so by randomly calling students and interviewing them about the performance of their schools football team following a game.
The researchers found that people tended to use the pronoun "we" more to describe their team when they won and "they" more when the team had lost. In some of these experiments, the researchers manipulated the feelings of the participants by employing distraction tasks and giving positive/negative feedback. By way of this manipulation, the researchers were able to show that people tend to associate with positive others most closely when their own public image is threatened. This article is classic because it clearly demonstrated that people associate themselves with positive others even when they have no clear connection to the success of the positive others, which is essentially the BIRG phenomenon.