The Future is Bright: The Uderdog Label, Availability, and Optimism

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Research suggests that people support underdogs. Three studies examined how laypeople conceptualize the underdog label. Study 1 used a free association method to create a semantic network map of the underdog construct. In Study 2, participants provided their own definitions and selected the entity that best exemplified an underdog. In the two studies, the underdog term was linked to both disadvantage and successful qualities. In Study 3, participants read fictional stories about competing entities unlikely to succeed. When targets were labeled as underdogs, participants predicted that they would perform significantly better than expectations. We suggest that, although dictionaries define underdogs as unlikely to prevail, a layperson's conceptions, shaped by inspirational archetypal stories of odds overcome, are more optimistic.

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Basic and Applied Social Psychology, v. 34, issue 1, p. 34-43