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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]