BETHESDA, Md. -- As a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Dr. Jordan Grafman studies brain function, analyzing why we think what we think and when we're going to think it. He's a brainiac.
But when the topic turns to his own neurological disorders and why he allows himself to go through the emotional torment that accompanies cheering for the Cubs, he struggles to apply what he has learned in his laboratory. "It hasn't helped me one bit," says Grafman, a native Chicagoan. "When the Cubs suffer, I suffer. And I gladly keep coming back for more."
Grafman grew up in the Rogers Park section of Chicago, watching Ernie Banks and listening to Jack Brickhouse on the radio. His most vivid childhood memory as a Cubs fan is leaving Shea Stadium after the famous black cat game in 1969 and listening to his East Coast cousin snicker about the "loser Cubs."
"That night sort of typified being a Cubs fan for me," Grafman says. "The team was absolutely falling apart, and on top of that my cousin is laughing at me."
Today, Grafman's research at the National Institutes of Health focuses primarily on the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that handles reasoning, planning, social cognition and social behavior. It is the frontal lobe that allows Cubs fans to dream about their team in the World Series. It's the frontal lobe that provides perspective, relying on a century of history to reveal that those dreams are likely ludicrous. And it's the frontal lobe that helps fans cope when those dreams go unfulfilled for a century.
"In 1969 or 2003, if we were just guided by our emotions, Cubs fans would have said, 'Let's charge the field and beat the hell out of those guys!'" Grafman says. "That is your emotions taking over. But the frontal lobe is very, very good at modulating these emotions. And obviously, as a Cubs fan, that's essential."
But a century of losing isn't for naught. Ask Grafman how Chicago Cubs fans differ from the fans of other baseball teams and, with a straight face, the man in the lab coat says: "They're intellectually superior. This is backed by scientific evidence. When you have to think in a novel manner to solve a problem or achieve a goal -- in this case, to be rational and sane while you root for the Cubs -- that is going to promote growth in brain areas that we consider important for human reasoning and intelligence and social behavior."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.