Why do we root for underdogs? Huffington Post article cites research by two Richmond professors

August 5, 2013

Research by George R. Goethals, a professor of leadership studies in the Jepson School, and Scott Allison, a professor of psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences, explains why people root for underdogs.


George Goethals and Scott Allison from the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA, in their analysis of who the public regards as heroic, have found that a key ingredient is the notion of the underdog. In a paper entitled Making Heroes: The Construction of Courage, Competence and Virtue, they state how they found people root for, identify with, and are most fond of, underdogs. Those who must struggle to achieve their objectives.

Their paper published in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychology explains that this liking and rooting for perceived underdogs, is so deep-rooted, it even holds for inanimate objects, whose movements on a computer screen activate scripts of struggle and effort against more powerful rivals.

They discovered in their own surveys of the public that when asked if they had any heroes, 95% listed at least two heroes, and two-thirds listed six or more in just a few minutes. Roughly a third of heroes, from this research, are family members, a third are real public figures, but the last third are fictional, often from TV and film.

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