A brief tour of the virtual 2021 Heroism Science Conference

Co-written by Dr. Elaine Kinsella and Adam Miniter

Heroism Science 2021

The Third Biennial Heroism Science conference was hosted (virtually) by the Department of Psychology at the University of Limerick, Ireland on May 27th and 28th 2021, and chaired by Dr. Elaine Kinsella (chair) and Dr. Eric Igou (co-chair). The theme of the conference was “Exceptional Leadership and Heroism: Protecting Communities and Saving Lives.” Over 100 people attended sessions during the conference. All tweets relating to the conference can be accessed via the hashtag #heroismscience2021.

With 26 distinguished speakers from around the globe, it was no surprise that the 2021 Heroism Science conference was stimulating and engaging event. Run over two days, the speaker sessions were filled with high-quality research and interesting ideas on topics related to heroism, as well as though-provoking discussions. Speakers were diverse in terms of their experience (PhD students, academic professors, practitioners) and their areas of expertise (including clinical, education and rehabilitation experts).

Importantly, the conference was free to attend. This decision was made by the Chairs to make the event more accessible to academics and members of the general public.

We had the pleasure of hosting three exceptional keynote speakers.

  • Professor Kath McPherson is a deputy Vice Chancellor and Professor of Rehabilitation at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Her talk covered a broad range of topics including the goal-setting and metaphoric identity mapping in rehabilitation, the role of heroes and leaders during a global pandemic, and the role of heroes in highlighting cultural diversity in New Zealand.
  • Dr. Nik Steffens is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland and an Australian Research Council DECRA Research Fellow. His talk focused on the role of social identity in leadership and how it is vital for leaders to create a unifying ‘us’ narrative particularly in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Graham Goulden is a retired police officer and leader of Cultivating Minds UK. He discussed social issues including racism and violence, and how everyday discourses in the media serve to perpetrate social norms on these topics (either positive or negative). His encouraged us to ‘call people in’ on bad behaviour (e.g., locker-room talk) rather than calling people out, and make practical suggestions about how to do this.

A new aspect of the conference was the inclusion of a Spotlight on Methods section which features two experts in novel research methods:

  • Dr Deirdre O’Shea (University of Limerick): From conceptual understanding to application: Examples from voice and silence research
  • Dafnet group led by Professor Mike Quayle and colleagues (University of Limerick): A Network Approach to Characterising Groups Identifying with Different Heroes

We also had the pleasure of hosting some world-leading scholars and PhD students in the field of heroism and leadership at this small-group meeting on hero studies. Here is very brief overview:

Day One

  • Dr Wijnand van Tilburg (University of Essex, UK): (Mis)Leading by Example: Extremely Successful Others Inspire Risk-Taking under Uncertainty
  • Dr Golan Shahar (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel): Heroes, “Heroists”, and Emotional Distress: Toward a Classification of Heroic Action and Self-Representations
  • Dr Elaine Kinsella (University of Limerick): The misappropriation and reappropriation of the heroic label in the midst of a global pandemic: A case for the hero contract
  • Dr Sarita Robinson (University of Central Lancashire, UK): Using Superheroes to help teenagers learn about mental wellbeing
  • Professor Scott Allison (University of Richmond): Nostalgic Remembrances as a Central Source of Heroism and Heroic Judgements
  • Brian Riches (Claremont Graduate University, USA): The Current State of the Intended Heroic Behavior Scale
  • Dr Ekaterina Kolpinskaya (University of Exeter, UK): Heroes as Harbingers of Social Change: Gender, Race and Hero Choice in the United States and Britain
  • Michael Condren (Claremont Graduate University): Beyond clapping: The influence of organizational factors on social heroes
  • Robert Cochrane (University of Nevada): The Heroic Journey of Parkinson’s disease
  • William Nicholls-Allison (Adler University, Canada): I can be a hero: How do hero stories affect adolescent development?
  • Professor Russell N. James (Texas Tech University): The Fundraiser as Guiding Sage in the Donor-Hero’s Journey: Managing Occupational Stigma with Story

Day Two

  • Tom Voigt (Deakin University, Australia): The unintended consequences of acts of bravery on civilians – post traumatic growth amongst Australian Bravery Award recipients
  • Dr Nehemia Stern (Ariel University of Samaria, Israel): Subverting the Strategic Corporal: The Contemporary Heroic Imagination within the Israel Defense Force
  • Dr Hansika Kapoor (Monk Prayogshala, Mumbai, India) and Dr Justin Martin (Whitworth University): It’s worse if Superman does it: Perceptions of moral transgressions by superheroes and supervillains.
  • Yuning Sun (University of Limerick): Cultural Differences in Perceptions of Heroes
  • Neil Coleman (University of Limerick): The Lessons of Icarus: The Mythology of “Ambulance Drivers” and “Frontline Heroes” in the Irish Emergency Medical Services
  • Dr Stephanie F. Jones (Clinician): Moving from Passive to Active Bystanderism: Lessons learned from Social Science Research on Helping Applied to Ethical Policing in the 21st Century
  • Dr Eric Igou (University of Limerick): The Dilution of heroes
  • Kevin O’Malley (University of Limerick): Developing a framework for measuring heroic influence
  • Dr Rachel Sumner (University of Gloucestershire): Helping the Heroes: The emerging importance of solidarity during times of crisis
  • Lily Collison & Kara Buckley: Pure Grit: Stories of remarkable people living with physical disability

We sincerely thank all presenters for taking the time to share their work.

There will be a special issue in the journal Heroism Science associated with the conference. The Special Issue theme is as follows: Exceptional Leadership and Heroism: Protecting Communities and Saving Lives. The editors for the Special Issue will be Dr Elaine Kinsella and Dr Eric Igou. First drafts of manuscripts are due by 30 September 2021. The issue is scheduled to be published beginning in January of 2022.

The Fourth Biennial Heroism Science conference will take place on October 4, 5 and 6th 2023 in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty) and will be chaired by Dr. Peter Bray.

Finally, a sincere thanks to the fantastic conference organisation team (Elaine, Eric, Kev, Muireann, Alanna, Adam, and Ian) who worked hard to create a welcoming space to share ideas and research together in the midst of a global pandemic.

Undergraduate Reflections on attending the 2021 Heroism Science conference

By Adam Miniter

I am a second-year undergraduate arts student in UL, and this was my first time attending academic conference. Going into this conference was slightly intimidating, as it was filled with experienced researchers, professors, and professionals from a multitude of fields, but the speakers, participants, and heroism science team made everyone feel very welcome. I learned lots from this conference and felt comfortable asking questions during the speaker sessions. Previously, I would have been slightly hesitant on attending an academic conference, but I would definitely be more inclined to attend events like this in the future.


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