Why Do We Love the Underdog?

It seemed like the entire country (save for a few Blue Devil alums) cheered for Butler, the long-shot basketball team from Indiana, in this year’s NCAA Final Four tournament. Researchers have established that cheering for a losing team can negatively affect happiness and self-esteem, so why do people persist in loving the underdog? Daniel Engber, exploring this puzzling propensity at Slate, suggests that everything from a simple cost-benefit decision to humans’ preference for fairness may explain it. Our preference for the underdog is global, but also fickle: “At an unconscious level, we know we don’t take underdogs all that seriously,” says Scott Allison, a professor of psychology at the University of Richmond. “We love them, but it’s a weak effect.”[%comments]


Scott must mean subconscious. Its difficult to take anything seriously when one's at an unconscious level.


If you are choosing an underdog purely for that fact, and not because it is a team you have other emotional ties to, I'd say the negative effect of losing is small, but the potential benefit from the feel good story is large. If this assumption is true, from a risk perspective, I think you gain from siding with the underdog.

Rudiger in Jersey

It may be a case of selective recall. IF you root for the perennial favorite Yankees for the entire Naughts Decade, would you even remember year to year?

If you choose to root for a novel team like Butler University--honestly who has heard of Butler-- you would remember it because it is so distinct. And if they hit Payola, you are Nostradamus. IF they fail, drink enough beer, and you can erase it.


I've noticed people tend to root for underdogs in team sports, but the top dog in individual sports. Any reason for that?


We sometimes root for the underdog because an upset will cause more thrill than if a team that has a perfect record wins it all. Usually the people who are fake fans of the underdog that don't even watch the sport, root for the underdog just to piss off there friends that are fans of the teams that they are facing.


I think it's pretty obvious why we all want to root for the under dog. Sympathy. As humans a natural feeling that comes when we see a loosing team is symapthy and inklings of hope that maybe this time they'll make it all the way. So naturally we root for them, hoping to be exstatic at the result of our choice rather then dissapointed.

Duke makes me barf a little

We are often cheering against the overdog.

Mr. Plumpken

I think that the average fan doesn't usually pick the underdog out of sympathy, but rather out of spite. Yes, Butler was the lovable "small town" group, but more people rooted for them because they just plain hate Duke(As do I). For every power program or team in American sports there is an army of haters that follows them. It would be nice to think that we rooting for fairness or out of sympathy, but the fans realistically aren't that compassionate.


I believe we route for the underdog to go against society and in actuality it is following what the rest of society is doing. People want to see the people with the least chance of succeeding to succeed and beat out the people who are ahead. When it comes to sports like basketball, it makes the game much more fun to watch when the underdogs have more fans because it boosts their confidence and makes them play harder than the other team. Routing for the underdog is something that will stick around forever because it makes life more exciting.

David L

I hate Duke, UNC, USC, Michigan, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Steelers, the Patriots, etc. because of their fans. They have somehow internalized that because their teams have been good, by extension, they (the fans) are somehow good, and it permeates every sports-related interaction you have with them. Therefore, because I find the fans obnoxious, I root against their team, hoping that when they lose it will crush the souls of the maximum number of obnoxious people.

Scott Allison

I've enjoyed reading all these comments. Several of you have put your finger on a huge part of the underdog phenomenon, namely, the idea that we tend to resent people who are too successful. We especially dislike success combined with arrogance.

So the appeal of the underdog is often due to our distaste for the top dog. We love an even playing field -- at least in the realm of athletics. I'm not sure this applies to other areas of life as much.


I disagree with the original post saying that "cheering for a losing team can have a negative affect." Cheering for the losing team will give them much more confidence than they would have normally since they are, after all, the underdog.


I feel that most people identify more with the underdog, because they don't always win, just like them. You root for someone you relate to and empathise with.


A bit of Freud maybe: those who root for the underdog are those who have identified with or have been the picked upon, unsuccessful, outcast, ...., member of a family, school, or organization. So, as many others have identified, we root for the underdog out of spite; I just think those who root for the underdog (in contrast to the winning team fans) do so out of their own life (particularly childhood) experiences.


Our love for the underdog might be rooted in our nation's history. Our country's origin began with us being one of the greatest underdogs in the history of global conflict. A small collection of colonists, farmers, lawyers, ex-soldiers, collectively took up arms against the most powerful empire in the world at that time. We have that drilled into our heads by social studies teachers from grade four and up-"We weren't supposed to win! We were outmatched! Great Britain should have eaten us up!", and on and on. Also, Americans pride themselves in living in a country where any underdog has a chance at success. We celebrate the story of the underdog all of the time. Ali vs. Liston I, The 2004 Red Sox, the 1983 N.C. State men's team in college basketball, etc. It's just something in our national DNA. To us, there's no joy in cheering for Goliath over David-which explains why the Yankees are one of the most hated teams in the U.S. We love to see the unexpected winner.



I forgot to mention movies. We see the underdog celebrated in American films all of the time. "Rocky", might be the best example, but we can also point to "Animal House", "The Bad News Bears", "The Alamo", and so many others. The story of the underdog is one of the most popular themes in our films.


I looove Underdogs simply because they absolutely must be doing something special/unique/different in order to overcome the odds against them.

Usually that little something extra is a quality we can all admire; drive, ambition, hardwork, etc...

We love the Underdog because we love seeing someone overcome a challenge!

Check out these underdogs: http://www.underdogdirectory.com

Andrew A.

We love underdogs because they have to fight for more respect and its harder to believe in yourself and show your best when others don't have faith. Everyone feels like this at one point in another in life, and so its way of giving back to others what we wish we had as some point.


this is good