What Makes Someone a Hero?

 In Hero Training, Social Psychology

How would you describe a hero? Social psychology has often investigated the negative parts of human behaviour, such as prejudice and aggression. It was only recently have researchers have begun to focus on positive human traits such as bravery and compassion. One of the leading researchers into heroism is Hero Town’s advisor, Phillip Zimbardo and the Heroic Imagination Project, an initiative dedicated to heroism research. Today, we will be looking further at the discoveries made by heroism research by drawing from a paper by Elaine Kinsella, Timothy Ritchie and Eric Igou.

Kinsella’s research

From his research, Zimbardo proposed that there are 12 hero archetypes, including the duty-bound hero, civillian hero and the Good Samaritan. Kinsella sought to investigate the unifying traits between these individuals as heroes. If you are interested in reading along, Kinsella’s paper can be purchased at the American Psychological Association.

The hypothesis made by Kinsella and colleagues was that certain features of a hero will be more prominent than others. Using several different data collection methods, the participants provided, rated and classified a list of traits associated with heroes. With this information, the researchers asked the participants to identify heroes, leaders and role models and their characteristics. The intention was to learn what differentiates these groups of people from one another.

Types of influential people

The results of Kinsella’s study were quite distinctive, but there was also some overlap as well. Both leaders and heroes were recognised as willing to make sacrifices or risks. However, heroes were seen as being more altruistic and selfless than leaders, who were described as proactive and determined. Although heroes were seen as courageous, they were not viewed as powerful as leaders. Kinsella addresses this by suggesting that heroes demonstrate more social power than personal or ego-centric power.

Meanwhile, role models were described as being more honest and humble than either heroes or leaders. The individuals named under the role model category ranged from figures in celebrity culture, or known role models such as family members. As this is such a broad topic, it was noted that a role model should not be confused with heroism, which requires evidence of courageousness. The concept of role models is, however, an important concept in shaping human behaviour and values.

Traits of a hero

As Zimbardo found, there are many types of heroes and many traits that an everyday hero may possess. From their research, Kinsella and colleagues found that the following traits were the most common:

…bravery, moral integrity, courageous, protecting, conviction, honest, altruistic, self-sacrificing, selfless, determined, saves, inspiring, and helpful.

These traits are not essential for one to be a hero, but they provide a useful idea of what to strive for. The most important take away from this paper is that a hero is someone who is driven to help or protect others.

Become a hero today

By gathering this research on heroic traits and behaviour, we can use this information to teach others and empower them to be heroes themselves. All the material provided by Hero Town Geelong’s hero training is supported by social psychology and heroism research, including that of Elaine Kinsella and her colleagues. Find out more about our hero training program and empower yourself to enact positive change for yourself, your peers and your community by enrolling today.

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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