August 20, 2017

March Madness: Why We Root For The Underdog

  • by Tarik Sloussi, M.A.
  • March 10, 2017
  • 0
March Madness

If you’ve ever watched the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, than you know why it is more commonly referred to as “March Madness.” Each year a lower seeded team overcomes the odds and defeats a higher ranked opponent, which leads to a surge in public support and backing.

March Madness

Have you ever found yourself rooting for the underdog in a game, tournament, movie, or even life for that matter? If so, you’re not alone. A 1991 study conducted by Frazier and Snyder showed that 88% of people preferred to root for the underdog against a heavily favored opponent. But why do we choose to root for the underdog when the odds of winning are, by definition, slim?

Research suggests that there are a couple potential reasons why we root for the underdog:

Justice and Fairness

Although we may not always seek justice and fairness when we are at an advantage, most of us have an innate desire to see a fair fight. This is why we feel bad for the baby gazelle that is being chased down by the bigger, stronger, and faster lion. We want a level playing field, and when one team or individual is at a clear disadvantage, we try to help in the only way we sometimes can… by rooting for the underdog.

More To Gain

If you root for the underdog and they lose, it is expected. If the underdog wins however, one experiences a heightened sense of excitement and elation that cannot be achieved if the individual or team one is rooting for is the odds on favorite. In other words, there’s more to gain in the sense of positive emotions if one roots for a team that’s expected to lose and they win, then if one roots for the favored team and they come out victorious.

Empathy and Relatability

Most individuals, at one point or another in their lives, have been underdogs in an endeavor that they’ve undertaken. As a result, we can relate to the underdog’s experience and empathize with their struggle. Watching an underdog overcome the odds gives us hope and belief that our hard work and effort can indeed help us overcome future obstacles.

In some ways, the underdog’s chance to win becomes our chance to win; their victory can be a corrective experience for some of us who have fallen short in previous attempts.

Regardless of why you root for the underdog, you’ll have ample opportunities to do so in this year’s NCAA tournament as there are no clear favorites. Here’s to another March filled with Madness!

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Tarik Sloussi, M.A.

As a therapist by day and a sports enthusiast by night, I welcome any opportunity to combine my two passions. Whether it’s incorporating play in therapy or writing sports related articles from a psychology perspective, I am pleased whenever my two worlds collide.

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