The discovery was made during Euro 2004 in Portugal, where police tried out an experimental “softly softly” approach.
An unexpected dividend was that peaceful supporters went out of their way to assist the police and keep a lid on hooligans.
Troublemakers found themselves not only up against the police, but also the majority of fans.
As a result there were no clashes reported in Portugal’s match cities.
Where trouble did occur, it was in areas covered by a different police force which had not followed the advice of psychologists.
It remains to be seen whether similar tactics will be employed in Germany during the World Cup.
In Portugal, two riots involving England fans did break out in Albufeira.
The regional police force, the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), made liberal use of riot squads to quell minor incidents.
In contrast the city police force, the Policia de Seguranca Publica (PSP), adopted a low-key approach using uniformed officers placed among the crowd with orders to be friendly.
Groups of officers in plain clothes were also deployed to prevent small pockets of disorder breaking out. But the riot police were kept waiting out of sight.
The effect was that most fans saw their relationship with the police and other supporters in a positive light, said the researchers.
Dr Clifford Stott, lecturer at the University of Liverpool, said: “The low-profile policing in Lisbon during Euro 2004 appears to have provided a context for a very positive form of England fan identity.
“This identity was defined in terms of non-violent fandom, positive social relations with the police, and similarity with fans of other nations.”