The underdog unadvantage

The underdog unadvantage

There was a lot of talk of underdogs this week. Jonah Lehrer is intrigued by whether underdogs actually try harder:

[U]nderdogs who really believe they are underdogs — and know that they probably won’t win — are less likely to put in the required effort. Why waste blood, sweat and tears on a probable loss? If that’s the case, then the coaches of underdog teams play an extremely important role in helping to counteract the superstar effect.

You see:

[T]here is one group that seems resistant to the underdog bias: referees. In fact, it seems that referees are easily swayed by the emotions of the crowd, which is why they tend to give better calls to the team with home-field advantage.

In other words:

[W]hile the rest of us are rooting for the underdog, the referees are just trying not to get booed. And since the underdogs rarely have home-field advantage, the data suggests that refs and umps actively counter our desire for underdog victories. They make the superstars more likely to win.

Something to consider next time you cheer on your favorite.