Sapiens are wired to back the underdog

Updated: Apr 21

Comics and movies go to great lengths to make the hero seem like the underdog before he (often predictably) vanquishes the villain. Why is the plot device used endlessly, long after it became cliché? Study by a group of researchers led by François Quesque suggests the answer might have to do with our innate tendency to sympathise more with the emotions of the underdog.

Participants in the study were presented with situations through comics and video clips in which one character exercised power over another one. They were then asked to resolve a referential ambiguity - ambiguity as to who was being referred to or who the act or emotional state was being ascribed to.

Participants consistently privileged the emotional states of the low-power character over those of the high-power character. This was true when high and low power roles were attributed to pairs of different genders or same gender. The authors opined that one reason for the bias could be our deep-seated sensitivity to fairness and inequality.

Read more about the study here.