The Great 8 Traits of Heroism

 In Hero Training, Social Psychology

We often talk about how everyday people can be trained to act as heroes, but is there a heroic personality? One of the keystone papers in the field of heroism by Scott Allison and George Goethals focuses on this question.

In this paper, Allison and Goethals look at how heroes are viewed and they roles they play for us. From their work, they identified eight characteristics that were consistently associated with heroes, which we will outline here today. Making Heroes: The Construction of Courage, Competence and Virtue can be downloaded in full from the University of Richmond.

The Great 8 Traits

Through several surveys of admired traits in leaders and heroes, Allison and Goethals identified the following:

  1. Caring
  2. Charismatic
  3. Inspiring
  4. Reliable
  5. Resilient
  6. Selfless
  7. Smart
  8. Strong

An individual does not need to possess all of these traits to be considered a hero, but heroes often exhibit one or more of these traits. The traits most commonly associated with heroism include Strong, Smart and Inspiring. This is because heroes have a moral modelling ability – this means that heroes demonstrate ideal moral behaviour that we look up to. Other traits such as Caring are not as commonly linked with heroism but are important motivators for pro-social behaviour, such as volunteering.

 A T(r)axonomy of Hero Functions

Heroes serve many functions for us, who look up to and admire the heroes in fiction and everyday life. To classify these functions, Allison and Goethals compiled their t(r)axonomy, so named because each category starts with “tr”. The list identifies that heroes can be Tragic (such as Shakespeare’s disgraced tyrant king Macbeth), and traditional heroes (those who follow the Hero’s Journey from start to finish).

Allison and Goethals note that heroes can be important to us at certain periods of time and then less so later in life. For example, for someone who is learning how to learning how to play tennis, Roger Federer might be one of their heroes. Then if they no longer take lessons, that hero is replaced by other, more relevant heroes. This is called a Transitional hero.

Also acknowledged is that individuals may experience brief periods of heroism, or lose their hero status. Trending heroes vary in their influence based on public opinion over time, whereas Transitory heroes experience “five seconds of fame” for their heroic deed. Heroes can also “fall from grace” by acting in villainous ways, making them a Transposed hero.

What is a Transcendent hero?

A proposed additional category to the hero taxonomy is the Transcendent hero. This refers to a hero who encompasses two or more of the categories, making them more influential than other types of heroes. An example of a Transcendent hero is Harry Potter, who is both a Traditional and Transitional hero for many people who grew up reading J. K. Rowling’s book series. To distinguish a hero who is both Trending and Transitory, Allison and Goethals argue that the most influential heroes should also be Transforming. This means that the hero contributes to a lasting change in society, whether that is in their local community or on a global scale.

To find out more about heroism research and how Hero Town applies these findings to train everyday heroes, sign up for Hero Training today. You can learn to become an Everyday Hero!

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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