From Hero(‘I’sm) to ‘Us’

When you think of a hero you likely think of an individual. A person who shows some of the 26 prototypical characteristics of a hero including bravery, moral integrity, courage, conviction, honesty, and willingness to protect others, humility, risk-taking and self-sacrifice (see Kinsella, Ritchie & Igou, 2015a). Yet, throughout history, heroes have inspired others to join a cause, get behind a social movement, and take action as a collective. What is it about a hero that catalyses the formation of a group? What is it about a particular hero that provides direction and clarity to an existing group? When and how do heroes energize a group of people or society to take action where apathy had previously prevailed?

In certain contexts, a hero can rise to the forefront and provide direction to the masses. The hero becomes part of a process that facilitates the coming together of a group (large or small) to support a person or cause. The sociologist, Orin Klapp, describes this as the “rallying” function of heroes. A hero may draw attention to a societal injustice, challenge the status quo and importantly, articulate a way forward. This clarity helps others to join the movement and support the cause. Indeed, Allison and Goethals highlight the energizing and wisdom functions that heroes provide (see Allison and Goethals, 2014, 2015).

Heroes do not necessarily occupy formal leadership positions, yet they do show leadership skills. Exceptional leaders often display a number of heroic qualities – compassion, courage, humility and willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of the group (or team or organisation). In the presence of these heroic qualities, what is the impact on the group? So far, research on the influence of heroes has begun to uncover how heroes influence individuals (see Kinsella, Ritchie, & Igou 2015b) yet we are only beginning to examine and understand the role of heroes and exceptional leaders in shaping groups and communities.

Want to learn more?

Get in touch with the RISE lab @risetoresearch or use the contact form on We will be hosting the Third Biennial Heroism Science Conference at the University of Limerick, Ireland on May 27th and 28th 2021.


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