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The Psychology of Dory: One Heroic Fish

Dr. Craig Pohlman

There are three kinds of people in the world right now:

  1. Those who have seen Finding Dory
  2. Those who are about to see Finding Dory
  3. Those who have never heard of Finding Dory or its predecessor, Finding Nemo (and it’s my understanding that those belonging to this third category are confined to the darkest recesses of the Amazon jungle)

dory

Folks in categories 1 and 2 know that Dory is a blue tang fish who suffers from what she refers to as short-term memory loss. Now while she clearly has trouble holding on to information over the near-term (such as a conversation topic), she also has trouble with long-term recall, which sets up the plot for this sequel:  her using recovered memories to find her parents, from whom she was separated years ago. By the way, her short-term memory loss leads to long-term memory problems since her difficulty clinging to info in the moment leads to trouble consolidating that info in her memory banks. A while back I wrote about Jane Doe from the television show Blindspot, a heroine who also has memory problems, though of the self-induced variety. In their own ways, Dory and Jane overcome their recall issues to discover truths about themselves.

In a previous post I defined my Heroism Quotient (HQ) and Villainy Quotient (VQ). I rate pop culture heroes along five factors (0-20), yielding a Heroism Quotient (HQ) with a maximum score of 100. The higher the HQ, the more heroic the hero. The factors are inspired by the thinking of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who has explored heroism following his ground-breaking work on the roots of evil with the Stanford prison experiment.

Here’s how I rate Dory on the HQ factors:

  1. Acting in service to others in need, or in defense of an ideal: In Finding Dory, our heroine’s primary motivation is to reunite with her parents; although that has to do with family, her goal is relatively self-centered, as opposed to serving others or an ideal. But I give her credit for all she did to help Marlin find his son in Finding Nemo and for how she helped some others (like Hank the octopus, as well as the captured sea critters). She gets an 8.
  2. Serving voluntarily: One thing about Dory, she always steps up. She could stay put on the Great Barrier Reef (and “just keep swimming!”), but instead she heads for the open ocean. So I’m giving her a strong 18 out of 20 on this factor.
  3. Recognizing possible risks/costs: I’m going a bit low (9) on this factor given how blissfully, and charmingly, unware Dory often is about the dangers around her.
  4. Accepting anticipated sacrifice: Her score here (11) is middling because, again, she doesn’t often think through (or remember) what the heck is happening to her, including potential sacrifices.
  5. Anticipating no external gain: Finding Mom and Dad is an external gain, for sure, but she earns a pretty strong 14 for taking some actions like heading off the Cleveland-bound truck when she could’ve just called it a day.

Total these 5 factor scores and Dory’s HQ is 60. That’s comparable to the 57 earned by fellow amnesiac Jane Doe from Blindspot, but not as strong as the VQ of 72 earned by Fin Shepard of Sharknado 3:  Oh Hell No! (speaking of maritime heroics).

About the author

Dr. Craig Pohlman

Dr. Craig Pohlman

Craig Pohlman is a neurodevelopmental psychologist who has written several books about helping struggling learners achieve success. That’s cool and all, but what he really wants to do with his life is be a game show host. Or starship captain. Or Jedi Master. Or some combination of all three.

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