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The Psychology of Heroism


I'm always on the lookout for engaging topics that can be used to promote critical thinking - and a topic that definitely falls into this category is 'heroism'.







In 2013 I interviewed award-winning director Yoav Shamir about his film 10% - What Makes A Hero? A fascinating documentary which explores the notion of heroism by attempting to answer the question of what it is that compels some people to do what is 'just' regardless of circumstance.



In preparing for the interview I discovered that Yoav Shamir had cited the compelling photograph above as the catalyst for making the film. The first question I asked him, therefore, was what he could tell us about the man apparently committing this remarkable act of defiance.



Although it's not know for certain, August Landmesser is the man most commonly said to be the person in the photo but interestingly Yoav Shamir told me that:



It could have been that this man was a real hero and it could have been that he wasn't, and was just having a bad day. We realized that what he symbolized was more important than his real identity.



In the course of the interview we discussed a range of issues that psychology instructors could discuss with their students e.g. how do you go about defining heroism?



One of my favorite parts of 10% - What Makes A Hero? is just how underwhelmed Yoav Shamir seems during a video call with Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Dr. Roni Berger when Zimbardo and Berger are outlining their research into the 7 characteristics of heroism.




Other issues/questions worth pursuing with your students in a class discussion about heroism include:



  • Are heroes born or made?


  • Whistleblowing. Edward Snowden, hero or traitor?


  • The evolutionary basis of empathy and compassion.


  • What is the opposite of heroism?



Whether you include the psychology of heroism as part of your teaching or not, you should definitely try and see 10% - What Makes A Hero? It's a great watch and I'm sure you'll find it just as interesting as I did.



If you would like to check out my interview with Yoav Shamir, you can do so by CLICKING HERE