This is Your Brain on Sports


L. Jon Wertheim & Sam Sommers
Publication Date: February 2, 2016

This is Your Brain on Sports is the book for sports fans searching for a deeper understanding of the games they watch and the people who play them. Sports Illustrated executive editor and bestselling author L. Jon Wertheim teams up with Tufts psychologist Sam Sommers to take readers on a wild ride into the inner world of sports. Through the prism of behavioral economics, neuroscience, and psychology, they reveal the hidden influences and surprising cues that inspire and derail us—on the field and in the stands—and by extension, in corporate board rooms, office settings, and our daily lives.  


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In this irresistible narrative romp, Wertheim and Sommers usher us from professional football to the NBA to Grand Slam tennis, from the psychology of athletes self-handicapping their performance in the boxing ring or the World Series, to an explanation of why even the glimpse of a finish line can lift us beyond ordinary physical limits. They explore why Tom Brady and other starting NFL quarterbacks all seem to look like fashion models; why fans of teams like the Cubs, Mets, and any franchise from Cleveland love rooting for a loser; why the best players make the worst coaches; why hockey goons (and fans) would rather fight at home than on the road; and why the arena t-shirt cannon has something to teach us about human nature.  

This is Your Brain on Sports is an entertaining and thought-provoking journey into how psychology and behavioral science collide with the universe of wins-and-losses, coaching changes, underdogs, and rivalry games.



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Advance praise for This is Your Brain on Sports

Bob Costas

It was only after delving into this unique tome that I learned that Mookie Wilson was available for bar mitzvah greetings via telephone, or that I can go elk hunting with Ryan Klesko for a mere nine grand. This information alone is worth many times the cost of this eye-opening and entertaining book.
Bob Costas, American sportscaster

Daniel H. Pink

Is there anything more satisfying than snagging a cannon-launched T-shirt at a crowded ballpark? Absolutely not. But this book comes very close. This is Your Brain on Sports is a rollicking read that offers dozens of sparkling insights into social psychology, cognitive science, and behavioral economics. Wertheim and Sommers are the perfect writing duo – one part Watson and Crick, another part Brady and Gronkowski.
- Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell is Human

Amy Cuddy

Eye-opening, captivating, and hilarious, This is Your Brain on Sports shines a fascinating and scientific spotlight on human nature. Wertheim and Sommers offer expert lessons for athletes and sports fans, sure, but also for business leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, parents, youth sports coaches, and more.
Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and author of the forthcoming book Presence

David Epstein

Wertheim and Sommers wield serious research to diagnose the myriad symptoms of the human brain on sports, and what they find is, by turns, hilarious, slightly frightening, and always illuminating.
David Epstein, author The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Adam Alter

Wertheim and Sommers have achieved the Holy Grail: a book that’s as fun as it is informative. I can’t think of a better place to demonstrate the foibles of the human mind than in the world of sports, where rabid fandom and superstition meet epic rivalries and impossible comebacks. If you’ve ever wondered why so many people devote so much time to playing, analyzing, and watching sports, this book is for you.
Adam Alter, Associate Professor of Marketing and Psychology, Stern School of Business, and New York Times Bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave

Ivan Gazidis

Not just an entertaining read, but a book filled with wisdom that will help fans, athletes, coaches — and executives – understand sports a little differently and a little better
Ivan Gazidis, chief executive Arsenal Football Club

Daniel Gilbert

Smart, funny, and brimming with insights, reading this book was almost as much fun as watching the Patriots win the Super Bowl!
Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling On Happiness

Table of Contents


  1. Why the T-Shirt Cannon Has Something to Teach Us About Human Nature
  2. Why Tom Brady and All Those Other Quarterbacks Are So Damned Good-Looking (or Are They?)
  3. Why We Channel Our Inner Mayweather and Secretly Crave Disrespect
  4. Why We Are All Dog Lovers at Heart (but Not Deep in Our Hearts)
  5. Why Hockey Goons Would Rather Fight at Home
  6. The Curse of the Expert: Why the Best Players Make the Worst Coaches
  7. Acting on Impulse: Why We Aren’t So Different from the Sports Hothead (L-O-B, Crabtree!)
  8. Why Athletes Don’t Need an Empty Bed Before Competition
  9. Why the Coach’s Seat Is Always Hot
  10. Why So Many Successful Ultra-Endurance Athletes Are Also Successful Recovering Addicts
  11. Why Giving Every Little League Kid a Trophy Is Such a Lousy Idea
  12. Why Rooting for the Mets Is Like Building That IKEA Desk
  13. Why We Need Rivals
  14. Why We Want Gronk at Our Backyard Barbecue —and Why He Wants to Be There
  15. Tribal Warfare: Why the Agony of the Other Team’s Defeat Feels Just as Good as the Thrill of Our Team’s Victory
  16. Why We Are All Comeback Kids
  17. Why Running on a Treadmill Is Like Running a Business
  18. Why the World Cup Doesn’t Lead to World Peace (Even If J. Lo and Pitbull Claim Otherwise)
  19. Why Our Moral Compass Is More Flexible Than an Olympic Gymnast
  20. Why Unlocking the Mystery of Human Consciousness Is —Like So Much Else in Life—All About Sports

About The Authors

L. Jon Wertheim

L. Jon Wertheim @jon_wertheim is the executive editor of Sports Illustrated, a senior writer at the magazine, and a television commentator for various networks and shows including the Tennis Channel. He is the author of eight previous books, including the New York Times bestseller Scorecasting (with Tobias Moskowitz) and You Can’t Make This Up (with Al Michaels). He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

Sam Sommers

Sam Sommers, Ph.D., @samsommers is a social psychologist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where he was Professor of the Year in 2009. His research examines group diversity, interracial interaction, and the intersection of psychology and law. His first book was Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World. But the most impressive line on his CV may be coaching two Little League softball teams to town championships on the same night. (Go Rockies. Go Giants.)