The Appeal of the Underdog

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underdog, justice, social identity, competition, schadenfreude, inequality

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When people observe competitions, they are often drawn to figures that are seen as disadvantaged or unlikely to prevail. The present research tested the scope and limits of people's support for underdogs. The first two studies demonstrated, in the context of Olympic matches (Study 1) and the Israeli—Palestinian conflict (Study 2), that observers' support for a competitor increased when framing it as an underdog. The final two studies explored mechanisms underlying support for underdogs. Study 3 showed that participants attributed more effort to a team when they believed it to be an underdog, and perceptions of effort mediated liking. In Study 4, participants reading a hypothetical sporting event supported a team with a low probability of success and labeled it an underdog unless it had greater resources than an opponent, suggesting that low expectations by themselves do not engender support if positive outcomes are not seen as deserved.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, v. 33, issue 12, p. 1603-1616