The Unexpectedly Fascinating Research with the Brony Fandom

What’s a Brony? For that matter, what’s a Fandom? Dr. Marsha Redden, long-time Louisiana psychologist, now retired and transplanted to South Carolina where she’s licensed and studying at University of South Carolina– Upstate, has a bit of an idea. Redden and her colleagues have been researching the fan group who call themselves “Bronies,” the unexpected fan group of boys and young men––the average age is 21––who follow the animated television show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The series, produced by Hasbro, targets the market segment of preadolescent girls and their parents. But the show won critical acclaim and, according to online bloggers, appealed to many of the fans of other animated shows like Pokemon, Robot Unicorn Attack, and Nyan Cat. These young males appreciated the show’s artanimation, music, and story line: a quest against the dark and destructive side of human nature with moral courage, love, and tolerance.

After 2010 these fans began to connect on the Internet and adopted the name Brony (singular) to describe themselves, combining “bro” and “pony,” for boys who like ponies. A polarizing online battle between Bronies and their critics, crystallized the group and the fandom began to thrive.

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Past President of the Louisiana Psychological Association Dr. John Fanning (L) speaks with Brony Fandom researchers from SLU, William Schmidt and Megan Simon. The two work with SLU psychology faculty member Daniel Chadborn in social psychology research and help understand new forms of group identity.

The phenomenon has carried Redden and her colleagues along with it. Redden has appeared in two films and she presented at fan conferences of 10,000 plus, speaking to standing room only audiences. “To our knowledge,” Dr. Redden said, “this is the first time psychologists have studied a fandom from the beginning.” She and colleague Daniel Chadborn, psychology faculty member from Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU), and Drs. Patrick Edwards and Jan Griffin from USC-Upstate, have collected data on 50,000 fans. The research team has looked at the demographics of the Bronies and presented research that has both helped explain the unique fandom, and helped deal with stereotyping. What have they found? Eighty-six percent of the Brony fandom are male, the average age is 21 with a range of 14 to 57, and 70 percent are students and 33 percent employed full or part-time. In sexual orientation, 84 percent describe themselves as heterosexual, 1.7 describe themselves as homosexual, 10.3 as bisexual, and 3.8 as asexual.

As a group, Bronies tend to be higher in Introversion, Agreeableness, and also in Absorption, a trait that seems related to artistic enjoyment and interests. The fandom appears to serve a strong “Social Function” for the Bronies, helping them expand friendship networks, and also a strong “Guidance Function” which helps support and make moral choices. The psychologists’ research has been fully embraced by the Bronies. “In the fandom I am known as ‘Dr. Sci Entific,’ Redden told the Times, “and you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten a standing ovation from 1,000 people or had a line waiting for you to sign autographs.” This is every summer at BronyCon. Redden has even autographed Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals.

While fan clubs have been around forever, the boost that telecommunications have added to overcoming geographical distances has helped to create some large and unique fandoms such as the Bronies. The researchers appear to be the first psychologists who have been able to compare fans and non-fans, and study the evolution of the fans as they grew and matured, explained Redden. “It is also the first time a fandom has been studied in this depth,” she said. “We have data on their demographics, sexuality, religion, hobbies, social behavior, drug behavior, to mention just a few. In all we have over 50,000 respondents in the data pool so you can see that the stats is a giant project.” The database is so big, she said, she’s retaking statistics courses. SLU undergraduate coordinator Daniel Chadborn and his students, William Schmidt and Megan Simon, have produced a host of presentations and presented at APA, the Louisiana Psychological Association, Southeastern Psychological Association, and will present at the upcoming Southwestern Psychological Association (SWPA). Chadborn joined the research group in 2012. “… I was looking into identity and personality types of table top role playing gamers,” he said, when he discovered the Brony reseachers. Chadborn has found it interesting that the “… fandom offers a large motivated population––our second survey took in close to 20,000 survey responses on a 45 plus minute long battery of surveys––and that is first and foremost what we have found supports the idea that fandoms, and especially the Bronies, are a positive group and offers a majority of its members positive benefits.” “It was also interesting to examine a fandom or group that had the potential to expand and last much longer than a few months,” Chadborn said, “and one that we could gather information and track changes from the beginning, rather than 10 plus years down the line or more if you look at groups like the Trekkers/Trekkies.”

He is also interested in the universal purposes of fan and leisure activity involvement. He and students Schmidt and Simon are examining fandom as a whole including focus of identification, fan interactions, size, and the universal traits of fandoms. They will be presenting some of their work at the upcoming Southwestern Psychological Association. Their results suggests that fandoms can offer three functions: a sense of guidance, inspiration, purpose, or sense of uniqueness; a way to share a liked interest; and stress relief. Chadborn, Schmidt and Simon are examining fandom as a whole including focus of identification, fan interactions, size, and the universal traits of fandom. And have concluded that “… regardless of where a fan’s interest lies, the purposes and functions the fandom and interest serve are the same.”

The Brony researchers have been interviewed in two films, distributed internationally and now on Netflix: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, produced by John De Lancie, and A Brony Tale, produced by Bret Hodge. “There is even a t-shirt, with the logo,” Redden said. The “WWAPD factor” logo and tshirt emerged after Redden commented on the issue of moral guidance and the “What Would a Pony Do” factor. “Many therapists and parents have written to thank us for doing this work because now they know what THEY are dealing with,” said Dr. Redden. To find more information go to www.bronystudy.com and click on the FAQ’s at the top or the Results section.

 

 

 

 

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