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Hope Springs Eternal For (Sorry, DC Sports Fans) Those Who Watch Underdog Narratives

advertising research / behavioral research / health research / blog

If you're looking for an excuse to veg out in front of the TV this weekend, we’ve got you covered. Your favorite guilty pleasure may have a positive impact on your well-being – if it has an underdog narrative.

In a recent study (1) published in Media Psychology, people who watched underdog narratives (2) for five minutes a day, for five consecutive days, reported feeling more hopeful than those who watched comedies, nature scenes, or no videos – and their hopefulness remained elevated for up to three days after viewing the final narrative.

Hi MeganHope has been linked with psychological and physical health, coping ability, and commitment to goals. And, the big “so what” for these results is that those in the underdog narrative group were more motivated to pursue personal goals and overcome personal obstacles. It’s the feel good extension of a finding more commonly explored in the risk communication literature – that negative emotions result in more pessimistic risk assessments, even if the source of the emotion is unrelated to the risk(s) evaluated. (3)

The study’s author suggests social marketers could utilize underdog narratives to encourage continued engagement in behaviors that require maintenance and goal setting, such as exercising. This type of narrative may also inspire the efficacy needed to reach difficult goals like quitting smoking.

The best news for DC sports fans, who have our fair share of underdog narratives to choose from, is that hope was related to the process of overcoming obstacles rather than to a happy ending. If the Redskins and Capitals continue to struggle this weekend, don’t fret. Replace those high expectations with an underdog narrative and harness that energy to hit the gym or otherwise enhance your psychological wellbeing next week!


  1. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15213269.2013.773494/
  2. This study defined underdogs as characters “perceived as attempting to accomplish a difficult task and not expected to succeed against an explicit or implicit advantaged opponent
  3. Johnson, E.J., & Tversky, A. (1983). Affect, generalization, and the perception of risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 20-31.
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