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Are Heroes Born or Made?

By , black-rose-bielefeld.de GuideSeptember 10, 2012

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In a 2011 talk for the Greater Good Science Center, psychologist Philip Zimbardo pointed out that researchers know a great deal about what makes people behave in "evil" ways. Group pressure, moral disengagement, anonymity, obedience to authority, and the diffusion of responsibility are just a few of the reasons why ordinary people might turn evil.

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But what about the reasons why people become heroes?

Surprisingly, the psychology of heroism is a far less well-understood subject. When a person performs a heroic act, such as jumping in front of an oncoming train to rescue a stranger, we are often left with the sense that such acts are baffling; that people who perform these heroics are rare and in possession of something that the rest of us simply do not have.

This notion that heroism is a mystifying inborn trait that only a few possess simply isn't accurate, Zimbardo suggests. Instead, he believes that the characteristics that lead people to become heroes can be taught and he and his colleagues have developed an educational program designed to foster heroism in today's youth. The goal of the Heroic Imagination Project is to not only encourage young people to become positive forces in their communities and society at large, but to give them the skills and confidence to take heroic actions during critical moments.

Learn more about what researchers have to say about the psychology of heroism and discover how Zimbardo's program works to teach kids how to become heroes.

What do you think makes a person a hero? Click the following link to share your own definition of a hero and describe some of the people who are your own personal heroes.

Image by Julian Walker

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