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Why We Cheer For The Underdog?
6 minute read · Issue Number 108 · February 18th, 2022
Congratulations to all Rams fans out there – helluva game!
I’m a Colts fan, but I was rooting for the Bengals in the Super Bowl.
I tend to root for the underdog whenever my team’s not playing.
Well, it turns out there’s actual science behind humans rooting for the underdog.
Grab some breakfast while I explain to you why.
The underdog is the person or team expected to lose in a battle/competition – the one with the odds stacked against it based on the nature of the competition.
It’s David against Goliath. Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. Any LaLiga team playing Barcelona or Real Madrid. You get it.
The underdog is everywhere, although finding it in sports is easy. It’s usually;
The team with less talent on the roster
The weaker or less experienced fighter
The team with a shorter budget
Higher betting odds (and smaller payouts) are always skewed towards the favorite – meaning, if you bet for the favorite, your chances of winning are higher, but the payout will be substantially smaller compared to a bet of the same amount for the underdog. There are more interesting dynamics behind sports betting, but we’ll leave that discussion for a different edition.
Here’s where it gets interesting: one study revealed that 88% of people root for the underdog.
There seems to be something quite satisfying for our brain to see the weak defeat the strong. But why?
The Psychology Behind Cheering for the Underdog
My quick guess to this question was the role storytelling plays in our minds.
We’re literally addicted to better stories. Discussing with a friend the story of how a team won against all odds is way more entertaining than saying everything went as expected.
In addition to that, science provides a few extra reasons why it makes sense psychologically:
Schadenfreude combines the German nouns Schaden, meaning “damage,” and Freude, denoting “joy.” It means joy from the harm or misfortune suffered by others.
This phenomenon exists from the envy towards the ‘privileged ones’ – hence, taking pleasure when they lose.
Humans derive peace from symmetry, balance, and equality. We want the underdog to win to restore the balance in an abstract equation that will make things more just.
The absence of chaos caused by imbalance keeps us on the side of the underdog.
We all know the classic saying: “if you expect nothing, you will never be disappointed” – lower expectations result in lower pain from the result.
Similarly – lower expectations result in way more pleasure if we get surprised by the outcome.
The Bottom Line
Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.
The underdog is everywhere – in politics, business, at your office, in your investments, at school, and especially in competitions or sports of any kind.
Start recognizing when you see or cheer for one. Most likely, deep inside, it’s because you’re looking for better stories, justice, schadenfreude, or any emotional utility.
But don’t worry. It’s normal. We all do it!
🎙 Halftime Snacks Podcast
This week’s snack features the CEO & Co-founder of NuArca Labs – a platform focused on creating NFT products for sports, music, and entertainment rights holders.
We discussed the fundamentals of the blockchain, NFTs, web3, their current/future relationship with sports, NuArca’s projects, the product launch with the Rugby League World Cup, and more.
Apply to be a guest on the Halftime Snacks Podcast here.