Four wins, 104 losses. That was the all-time record of the teams seeded at #15 heading into this year’s NCAA college basketball tournament for men. This year, in their first game, the #15-seeds went 2-2.
This is why people love the NCAA tournament: A chance to root for the underdog!
Not intimidated by their powerhouse opponents, Norfolk State and Lehigh exercised a David vs. Goliath fearlessness as they competed hard, improving their “fight” as the game progressed. The crowds rallied behind these underdogs excited for the distant possibility of an upset. Many of the fans had never heard of these schools before this month yet fans were jumping up and down with such passion and zest that one would think their own child was playing in the game.
How could this be? What is the psychology behind this underdog phenomena?
In part, the answer lies in our character strengths.
Fairness. Perseverance. Bravery. These are just a few of the character strengths involved in the underdog phenomena. When we have the chance to experience any of these, we feel us a sense of satisfaction.
As the NCAA tournament progresses, the underdog options will be dwindling quickly. Who will you root for? What character strengths will the underdog inspire in you?
Kim, J. H., Allison, S. T., Eylon, P., Goethals, G. R., Markus, M. J., & Hindle, S. M. (2008). Rooting for (and then abandoning) the underdog. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38(10), 2550-2573.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 118-129.
Vandello, J. A., Goldschmied, N. P., & Richards, D. A. R. (2007). The appeal of the underdog. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1603-1616.
Wall, D. G., & Wall, J. R. (2009). Nominations for the best underdog picture are…and the winner is… [Review of the motion picture Slumdog millionaire]. PsycCRITIQUES – Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, 54(8), doi: 10.1037/a0015533
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Last reviewed: 19 Mar 2012