Heroism Science

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Heroism Science Researchers

Heroism science researchers work across a wide range of fields and tackle the challenging task of advancing knowledge of heroism and related positive behaviours on a number of dimensions. Current research is geared towards analysing the causes, processes, functions and consequences of the phenomenon, with psychology and its various branches, both traditional and non-conventional, at the forefront of this scholastic enterprise. Leading researchers are developing novel multiple disciplinary frameworks to better understand the antecedents and impacts of heroic behaviour. Some of these include:

  • Uncovering the evolutionary and neurobiological bases of heroism;
  • Moral dimensions of heroism;
  • Analysis of heroism and courage in the workplace, especially in relation to whistleblowing;
  • Mapping the intersection between psychopathy and heroism;
  • The spiritual dimensions of heroism and the heroic calling;
  • Understanding the convergences and distinctions between heroism and related behaviours (e.g. resilience, courage, altruism, sacrifice, compassion), and developing instruments for the profiling and measurement of the heroic personality;
  • Developing innovative models of heroism against fields such as leadership and systems theory;
  • Investigating the use of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey as a pedagogical and counselling tool to promote well-being and improve rates of success in educational achievement and recovery;
  • Observing the manifestation of heroism in various highly charged contexts (e.g. medical emergencies, wars, social crises);
  • Recognising the importance of the mind-body connection in heroism and developing multi-level and embodied readings of the phenomenon;
  • Isolating genetic markers in unusually resilient individuals to develop cures for debilitating diseases;
  • Studying the intersection between heroism and global terrorism;
  • Observation and critical analysis of the narrative constructions of heroism in popular culture, new media, film and so forth, using interdisciplinary, semiotic, embodied and other interpretive frameworks;
  • Understanding the gendered and socio-cultural dimensions of heroism in its construction;
  • Developing a deep understanding of the barriers and facilitators of everyday heroism, and strategies for combatting bystanderism, violence, apathy, prejudice and other anti-social behaviours by ‘building’ heroic communities and individuals via heroism education;
  • Developing effective teaching strategies of heroism for both educational professionals and the public, as well as media marketing strategies for the dissemination of the heroic agenda;
  • Assessing the impacts of heroic acts and stories on immediate family members and the broader public, and perceptions of heroism;
  • Comparing and contrasting constructions of heroism across time, in ancient myths, medieval times and contemporary society;
  • Developing definition(s), and taxonomies for the classification of its diversity.

Olivia Efthimiou, 27 March 2015


Below is a list of some of the leading researchers in the field:

Scott T. Allison

Scott Allison has authored numerous books, including Heroes and Heroic Leadership. He is Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond where he has published extensively on heroism and leadership. His other books include Reel Heroes, Conceptions of Leadership, Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership, and the Handbook of Heroism. His work has appeared in USA Today, National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate Magazine, MSNBC, CBS, Psychology Today, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has received Richmond’s Distinguished Educator Award and the Virginia Council of Higher Education’s Outstanding Faculty Award.
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A. J. Brown

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A J Brown is Professor of Public Policy and Law and program leader, Public Integrity & Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University.  He is also a member of the board of directors of Transparency International Australia.  He has worked or consulted in all branches and at all levels of government in Australia, and has taught and researched widely in public policy, administration and accountability, and constitutional and administrative law.  His research has had a major impact on the design of public integrity systems and whistleblowing law reform around Australia and internationally, as well as on the political culture and practice of Australian federal reform.
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Zeno Franco

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Dr. Zeno Franco began addressing heroism and the psychology of heroic action in 2004 while on graduate fellowship with the US Department of Homeland Security.  A white paper shared with Dr. Philip Zimbardo on maverick and heroic activity during the 9/11 crisis resulted in a long-term collaboration between the two. Franco worked as a research assistant for Dr. Zimbardo’s NYT best selling book, “The Lucifer Effect” (2007), which summarized Dr. Zimbardo’s career researching the psychology of evil, and the two collaborated on the final chapter “Resisting situational influences and celebrating heroism“ offering a set of new ideas about the subject and a taxonomy of heroic actions and historical exemplars.  Franco & Zimbardo later published several initial works on heroism including “The Banality of Heroism” (2006) in Greater Good Magazine from UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism and “Fostering the Heroic Imagination” (2009) in Eye on Psi Chi with another student, now Dr. Kathy Blau.  Ultimately, Franco, Blau and Zimbardo published one of the first data driven journal articles on public perceptions of heroic actors, “Heroism: A conceptual analysis and differentiation between heroic action and altruism” (2011) in Review of General Psychology.

Dr. Franco’s major areas of focus are on crisis situations (ranging from disasters, to war, to every-day crisis events faced by regular people), and the actions that heroes take in these events to restore normalcy or to create transformative change. Dr. Franco works extensively with US military veterans and he is a member of the board for the International Association for Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM).  His current research on heroism focuses on developing a better understanding of the contingencies that crisis leaders face, and the aspects of these situations that call for heroic action.  Dr. Franco is also conducting a study specifically on military heroism.

In addition to scholarly activity on the subject of heroism, Dr. Franco is committed to making the ideal of heroism accessible to everyone, stressing the importance of “everyday heroism” – as almost all of us will face risky situations in some aspect of our lives that require difficult decisions, and sometimes personal sacrifice.  As a result, Dr. Franco is regularly featured in national and international news stories and commentary on the growing interest in the science of heroism.  Some of these features have included an extended editorial requested by CNN on why figures like Lance Armstrong are viewed were viewed as heroic by some fans, an analysis of “heroic failure” in the Costa Concordia disaster with co-author Matt Langdon requested by the Greater Good magazine, and an invited lecture on heroism in crisis events as part of the Hero Round Table conference in 2014.
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Kurt Gray

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Kurt Gray is a social psychologist who studies moral judgments, including ascriptions of blame, the process of redemption and the ethics of new technology.  He received his BS from the University of Waterloo and his Ph.D. from Harvard University.  Dr. Gray has been named a Rising Star and was awarded the Janet Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Research by the Association for Psychological Science.  He was also awarded the Theoretical Innovation Award by the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Psi Chi Teaching Award for exemplary undergraduate teaching.  His work has been generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and he has published in the journals Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Psychological Science and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  He has given two TED event talks and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Slate, Wired, Boston Globe, LA Times, and The Economist.
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Elaine Kinsella

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Dr. Elaine Kinsella PhD, MSc, BSc is a chartered psychologist with experience working in academia and private sector consultancy. Elaine is passionate about using psychology to understand and tackle organisational, clinical, and social challenges. She currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Limerick, and is soon to take up the tenured post of lecturer in psychology at Mary Immaculate College, Ireland. She has published a number of articles and book chapters on the topics of heroism, leadership, brain injury, and concussion. Using prototype methods, memory paradigms, and survey methods, Elaine and her collaborators have examined social and cognitive representations of heroes. Novel insights have been provided in relation to the following: 1) the prototypical features of heroes and heroic behaviour; 2) the features most associated with heroes, leaders, and role models; 3) the psychological and social functions provided by heroes; and, 4) how this new information about heroic influence fits in with the broader literature in psychology. Elaine is currently interested in exploring the links between personal heroes and other areas of psychology including self-regulation and identity. For more details see Elaine’s LinkedIn and institutional profiles.
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Dana Klisanin

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Dana Klisanin is an award-winning psychologist exploring the impact of media and digital technologies on the mythic and moral dimensions of humanity. Her pioneering research focuses on the potential of digital technologies and new media to advance altruism, compassion, heroism, and spirituality. Her institutional affiliations include: Ubiquity University, Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D, Inc., and c3: Center for Conscious Creativity.
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Ari Kohen

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Ari Kohen is Schlesinger Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. He teaches courses in the history of political thought, as well as on topics related to human rights and restorative justice. His research focuses principally on classical and on contemporary political thought. His first book examines the philosophical grounding of the idea of human rights; his new book looks at the ways in which we think about heroic behavior and the most choice-worthy lives. Ari also co-hosts an occasional podcast on heroism, the topic of his current research. Follow @kohenari on Twitter. Visit Ari Kohen’s blog and find out more information on his latest publications on heroism and other topics.
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Roderick M. Kramer

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Roderick M. Kramer is the William R. Kimball Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, where he has been a professor since 1985. He is the author of more than 150 scholarly articles, and his work has appeared in leading academic journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, as well as in practitioner-oriented magazines such as the Harvard Business Review. He is also the author or co-author of 17 books, including Negotiation in Social Contexts, The Psychology of the Social Self, Trust in Organizations, Power and Influence in Organizations, The Psychology of Leadership, Trust and Distrust Within Organizations, Organizational Trust, Social Decision Making, Restoring Trust in Organizations and Leaders, Contemporary Conceptions of Leadershipand the forthcoming Handbook of Heroism and Heroic Leadership Research. Professor Kramer has been a Visiting Scholar at numerous institutions, including the Bellagio Center, London Business School, Oxford University, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
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Scott O. Lillienfield
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Dr. Lilienfeld received his B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University in 1982 and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1990. He completed his clinical internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1986-1987. He was assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at SUNY Albany from 1990 to 1994, and has been a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Emory since 1994. His present research seeks to uncover the intersection between psychopathy and heroism.
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Fathali M. Moghaddam

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Fathali M. Moghaddam is an Iranian psychologist, professor of psychology at Georgetown University and director of Conflict Resolution Program, Department of Government, Georgetown University. Since 9/11, Moghaddam has applied his ‘collectivist/normative’ approach to explaining radicalization and terrorism in the context of accelerating fractured globalization. For more information on Professor Moghaddam’s research and teaching visit his website and Wikipedia page.
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Gábor Orosz

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Gábor Orosz is a Hungarian social psychologist, assistant professor, co-founder of Heroes Square Initiative. Since completing his PhD in France he has been carrying out studies in the field of cheating, competition, individual differences, and everyday heroism. E-mail: gaborosz@gmail.com
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Hannes Rusch

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Dr. Hannes Rusch is an assistant professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at VU Amsterdam and a permanent research fellow at the Peter Löscher Chair of Business Ethics at TU München. Hannes’ research is primarily concerned with the evolution of human cooperativeness and the many facets of contemporary cooperative and altruistic behaviors. In his integrative, interdisciplinary approach he employs empirical and formal methods from Experimental Psychology, Behavioral Economics, and Evolutionary Biology. In particular, he is studying the conditions under which intergroup conflicts trigger altruistic behavior, e.g. in the form of war heroism.
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Hanne Viken

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Hanne Viken is a Norwegian heroism researcher and promoter. Her recently completed Masters thesis “Experts’ view on how to foster everyday heroism: A delphi study” was an innovative survey of leading psychological research and emerging conceptions of heroism. Using the Delphi Method and open interviews, Hanne captured and collated the perspectives of leading heroism science researchers, contemporary heroes, and heroism activists, producing a mind-map that identified key action areas for future research and promotion of heroism to the broader community. Hanne is extremely passionate and dedicated to spreading and teaching everyday heroism, and developing methods that are appropriate for the Norwegian cultural context in particular.
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“We need everyday heroes not just for the sake of the other, but for the sake of the quality of our own lives. My passion is to spread the idea that small acts of good in your daily life make you happier. You will grow to be happier, braver and more confident by adding some courage into your daily act of good. You do that by breaking out of your comfort zone for the sake of another. I promise that your world will open up to new and wonderful places you didn’t know existed when you push yourself to dare a bit more, give a bit more. Your world becomes magic. I promise. No bogus – this is science.” Hanne Viken

Larry Walker

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Lawrence J. Walker is Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His program of research focuses on the psychology of moral development, particularly in terms of moral reasoning, personality, and identity. This research is aimed at developing a more full-bodied account of moral functioning that may help explain the psychological dynamics in exemplary moral action, including heroism. Toward that end, Walker examines individuals’ conceptions of moral excellence as well as the psychological functioning of a range of actual moral exemplars.
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Philip Zimbardo

Philip Zimbardo

Philip George Zimbardo Ph.D., is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox and the The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project. Further information on Dr Zimbardo’s extensive career is available in his Wikipedia page and personal website.
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