Matt Langdon says: "A couple of years ago you helped me get respondents to a survey on heroism that Phil Zimbardo [who conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971] was putting together. Boing Boing basically enabled the research to get under way with thousands of people taking part. Well, the paper has finally been written after a long period of analyzing and rewriting. I've posted a pdf on my site. I know two years is about sixty-three years in internet time, so maybe your readers won't remember, but I figured I'd let you know in case you wanted to share the results."
Heroism represents the ideal of citizens transforming civic virtue into the highest form of civic action, accepting either physical peril or social sacriï¬ce. While implicit theories of heroism abound, surprisingly little theoretical or empirical work has been done to better understand the phenomenon. Toward this goal, we summarize our efforts to systematically develop a taxonomy of heroic subtypes as a starting point for theory building. Next we explore three apparent paradoxes that surround heroism--the dueling impulses to elevate and negate heroic actors; the contrast between the public ascription of heroic status versus the interior decision to act heroically; and apparent similarities between altruism, bystander intervention and heroism that mask important differences between these phenomena. We assert that these seeming contradictions point to an unrecognized relationship between insufï¬cient justiï¬cation and the ascription of heroic status, providing more explanatory power than risk-type alone. The results of an empirical study are brieï¬‚y presented to provide preliminary support to these arguments. Finally, several areas for future research and theoretical activity are brieï¬‚y considered. These include the possibility that extension neglect may play a central role in public's view of nonprototypical heroes; a critique of the positive psychology view that heroism is always a virtuous, prosocial activity; problems associated with retrospective study of heroes; the suggestion that injury or death (particularly in social sacriï¬ce heroes) serves to resolve dissonance in favor of the heroic actor; and a consideration of how to foster heroic imagination.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.