Here’s an interesting article from The GreaterGood.Berkley.Edu which explores the ages-old “Nature or Nurture” argument where it pertains to the behaviors generally associated with heroism. Is there a “hero” gene? Is it social or economic influences? Can neuroscience explain the condition of heroism?
What makes us good? What makes us evil?
Research has uncovered many answers to the second question: Evil can be fostered by dehumanization, diffusion of responsibility, obedience to authority, unjust systems, group pressure, moral disengagement, and anonymity, to name a few.
But when we ask why people become heroic, research doesn’t yet have an answer. It could be that heroes have more compassion or empathy; maybe there’s a hero gene; maybe it’s because of their levels of oxytocin—research by neuroeconomist Paul Zak has shown that this “love hormone” in the brain increases the likelihood you’ll demonstrate altruism. We don’t know for sure.
I believe that heroism is different than altruism and compassion. For the last five years, my colleagues and I have been exploring the nature and roots of heroism, studying exemplary cases of heroism and surveying thousands of people about their choices to act (or not act) heroically. In that time, we’ve come to define heroism as an activity with several parts.
First, it’s performed in service to others in need—whether that’s a person, group, or community—or in defense of certain ideals. Second, it’s engaged in voluntarily, even in military contexts, as heroism remains an act that goes beyond something required by military duty. Third, a heroic act is one performed with recognition of possible risks and costs, be they to one’s physical health or personal reputation, in which the actor is willing to accept anticipated sacrifice. Finally, it is performed without external gain anticipated at the time of the act.
Simply put, then, the key to heroism is a concern for other people in need—a concern to defend a moral cause, knowing there is a personal risk, done without expectation of reward.
By that definition, then, altruism is heroism light—it doesn’t always involve a serious risk. Compassion is a virtue that may lead to heroism, but we don’t know that it does. We’re just now starting to scientifically distinguish heroism from these other concepts and zero in on what makes a hero.
My work on heroism follows 35 years of research in which I studied the psychology of evil, including my work on the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. The two lines of research aren’t as different as they might seem; they’re actually two sides of the same coin.
A key insight from research on heroism so far is that the very same situations that inflame the hostile imagination in some people, making them villains, can also instill the heroic imagination in other people, prompting them to perform heroic deeds.
Take the Holocaust. Christians who helped Jews were in the same situation as other civilians who helped imprison or kill Jews, or ignored their suffering. The situation provided the impetus to act heroically or malevolently. Why did some people choose one path or the other?
Another key insight from my research has been that there’s no clear line between good and evil. Instead, the line is permeable; people can cross back and forth between it.
Read the rest of the Article, HERE at GreaterGood.Berkeley.Edu
Author Credit: Philip Zimbardo