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The Underdog Narrative in Movies: When Our Memories Fail Us

Heroism Science, Volume 2, 2017

By Nadav Goldschmied, Jessica Ruiz & Sydney Olagaray


Heroes who win are adulated. Underdogs are a special class of heroes who are facing especially daunting odds. Why do people extend support to underdog entities in light of their bleak odds for triumph? The current study explored the idea that the underdog narrative is one of ultimate success and that this schema is strong enough to elicit false memories. We surveyed participants’ recollections of two boxing movies. As predicted, participants accurately remembered James Braddock beating the world champion in the end of Cinderella Man (underdog consistent plot) but failed to recall Apollo Creed beating Rocky Balboa in Rocky I (underdog inconsistent plot). While ruling out alternative explanations of time and emotional attachment we propose that the underdog storyline is one of eventual triumph. This distortion in memory may, in turn, contribute to unfounded optimism about the yet-to-be-determined chances of contemporary underdogs and increase the likelihood of support extended to them. Limitations and future avenues of research are discussed in detail.

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