Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Joseph A. Vandello, Ph.D.


Looming success, Disadvantage, Schadenfreude


From politics to sports to business, people are quick to categorize those at a considerable competitive disadvantage as "underdogs." Moreover, there is ample support that most unattached observers do not hesitate to align themselves with underdogs, a phenomenon termed "the underdog effect." While most dictionary definitions state that underdogs are "especially expected to lose," the present investigation argues that people often attribute optimistic qualities to underdogs and the exceeding of expectations. A series of studies was conducted to examine the lay-person definition of what an underdog means, as well as what motivations may play a role in the underdog effect. Study 1 investigated people's spontaneous definitions of underdogs by exploring the semantic network of the underdog construct through the use of the discrete associations method. Study 2 explored the hypothesized looming success component of being an underdog by asking participants to evaluate future success of underdogs vs. disadvantaged entities. Study 3 utilized the false recognition paradigm to explore schematic memory of success associated with the underdog construct, while the last study assessed whether people do truly support those at a competitive disadvantage or merely root against the favorite, as well as explored the possible role of the self in the underdog effect. Support for the looming success of the underdog was found in the first two studies while the last study demonstrated that strong self-identification with the underdog was highly correlated with support for it. Overall, the results of the current study suggest that people in American society believe that underdogs are unique exemplars which are expected to do significantly better than the initial expectations.