In the "old days" (before duplicate became popular in the 1960s and 1970s), people used to UNDER bid in competitive situations.
That was partly because the "Law of Total Tricks" hadn't yet been discovered (by Jean-Rene Verne in 1966), which stated that if both sides had (potentially) eight trumps in their best fit, (at least) ONE side could take eight tricks; if both sides had nine trumps, then nine tricks; and if ten trumps, ten tricks; even though they would average only 20 HCPs a hand.
The other reason was the likelihood of a "set;" people shied away from small minus scores, even though they might "save" a larger-scoring game which was reported as a PLUS score (for their opponents).
When duplicate became popular, people started to understand that what mattered was performance on the "curve," down two doubled non-vul (-300) was preferable to letting the opponents score a game. And techniques were developed for competitive bidding, including "pre-empts," takeout doubles, overcalls, "balancing," etc.
Nowadays, I believe that the spread of the above techniques may have caused the pendulum to swing the other way; that people pre-empt, overcall and balance with "junk," e.g. suits headed by QT (or less). That's not a bad idea at "favorable" vulnerability (non-vul vs. vul.) but may be overdoing it at other vulnerabilities. Down three doubled, is no fun, unless its for -500 against a 620 game. And if you overcall at the two level with QTxxxx, and partner has "nothing," it's two easy for one opponent to double you with AKx. Besides, you don't really want an opening lead to your QTxxxx (one of the main purposes of an overcall).