The Situationist

Cheering for the Underdog

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 31, 2007

i-hate-new-england-patriots.jpgIf you’re like many Americans, you’re spending much of this week watching football games. And, if you’re like many such viewers, you’re rooting for the underdog (or rooting against the overdog). It seems there’s a strong bias in favor of the person or group who seems outmatched be it in sports, movies, or other walks of life.

We’ve examined that tendency on several ocassions, most substantively in Jon Hanson and Michael McCann’s Promoting Dispsitionism through Entertainment series, which, by studying the films Rocky Balboa and The Pursuit of Happyness, showed how system justification plays a leading role in explaining for whom we cheer. System justification, as Situationist contributors John Jost, Aaron Kay, and their collaborators have shown, refers to the motive to defend and bolster existing arrangements even when doing so seems to conflict with individual and group interests.

A new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks further into the underdog phenomenon. In “The Appeal of the Underdog,” Joseph A. Vandello, Nadav P. Goldschmied, and David A. R. Richards of the University of South Florida asked participants to react to various scenarios presenting different competitors with an advantage or disadvantage. Below we excerpt of a Science Daily article on their study and findings.

* * *

Using both sports and political examples, the researchers asked study participants to react to various scenarios presenting different competitors with an advantage or disadvantage.

For instance, in one study using the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the participants were given the same essay about the history of the area, but with different maps to reference — one showing Palestine as smaller than Israel (and thus, the underdog) and the other showing Israel as smaller.

Israel Palestine

No matter what scenario the participants were presented with, they consistently favored the underdog to win.

Why do people support underdogs and find them so appealing?

The researchers propose that those who are viewed as disadvantaged arouse people’s sense of fairness and justice — important principles to most people.

The researchers also found that people tend to believe that underdogs put forth more effort than top-dogs, but that favorable evaluation disappeared when the underdog status no longer applies, such as when people are expected to lose but have a lot of available resources.

* * *

The actual study can be obtained at this link.

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3 Responses to “Cheering for the Underdog”

  1. […] Cheering for the Underdog « The Situationist Is this why everybunny hates me, sniffle sniffle (tags: society) […]

  2. […] read the rest, click here.  For a related Situationist post, see Cheering for the Underdog and Jack Bauer and Growing Up […]

  3. […] “Cheering for the Underdog.” […]

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