Heroism Isn’t Always What We Think It Is

Every so often, stories of heroism pop-up in social media. We praise the selfless human who steps into action, give that story a like, and hit re-share. We might even cap it off with the comment “My faith in humanity has been restored.” (The only thing that gets more likes might be a report of a dutiful dog saving a family.)

Explaining the motivation behind heroism is complicated.

We might infuse the bravery of heroic behavior with concepts of altruism, compassion, or empathy. It may be hailed as that special act driven by noble character and values. But what motivates heroism might be more complicated than that.

In this Radiolab episode below, Jad and Robert explore the heroism behind the hero. They talk to individuals who won the Carnegie Hero Fund to find out what made them different from others. Some were not sure why they jumped into the face of danger to save a life, others searched for higher reasons, even backfilling their stories with religious explanations. (A process called hindsight bias: see my post “Study: Considering How Things Might Be Worse Increases Faith in God“).

It’s a fascinating episode that ends in a conversation with neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky, whose book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, just came out last year. Spoiler alert: the brain is a complicated thing.


Photo: Esteban Lopez on Unsplash