Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Joseph Vandello, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Judith Bryant, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kristen Salomon, Ph.D.


Justice, Competition, Schadenfreude


From politics to sports to business, people are quick to categorize those at a competitive disadvantage as ‘underdogs’. Moreover, there is ample anecdotal support that most people do not hesitate to align themselves with underdogs, a phenomenon called “the underdog effect”. A series of studies were conducted to examine the scope and limitations of the underdog effect. The first study explored the extent of the underdog effect and determined that resources play a crucial role in forming alliances with those whom we perceive to have the lower chance to succeed. A second series of experiments assessed whether participants, who demonstrated the underdog effect, did truly support those at a competitive disadvantage or merely rooted against the favorite. The first experiment in this series framed questions in terms of either losing or winning, thus forcing the responders to pick the more salient of their perceptions of a novel competition scenario. Support for the underdog was found to be more extreme than rooting against the top-dog. The next experiment in this series explored the human perception under “spoiler” condition, when the underdog does not have much to gain from winning the competition, but the stakes are high for the top dog due to possible adverse repercussions above and beyond of the present competition. Spoilers were not supported more than non-spoilers. Finally, the last series of studies used memory as an indirect measure of focus of attention. Some evidence for rooting against top dogs was found.