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The Psychology of Heroism Essay

Recently I read this article written by John Cloud in the online Behavior section of Time on August 9th, 2012. Seems like every day acts of violence are becoming more and more random as well as frequent. While this is not a comforting fact it does allow the opportunity to separate the heroes from the rest of us. In an age where someone has carelessly opened fire into a crowded movie theater, it is comforting to know that built in some of us is an unwavering altruistic character. One thing the article pointed out that I had never considered is how hard it would be to study someone considered a “hero.” The main reason being that someone willing to stand in front of the bullet is not around later to be tested.

The other day in class we were discussing the nervous system and I would think by gaining a better understanding of the peripheral nervous system we would have better insight into the mind set of a hero. I think being able to make that self-sacrificing decision in a split second has to be a very unique reaction in the brain since so few people have proven to have this trait. It would seem that by studying the sympathetic region of the autonomic part of the nervous system we could get a better idea of how a hero’s brain operates versus a normal person. In class we talked about how this was the region of the brain where our fight or flight response operates. Since this reaction would be split second I think this area of the brain would have the largest amount of activity, whether it be that neurons are firing more frequently or more effectively.

The more we could determine about how the neurotransmitters are functioning during the fight or flight response the more we will understand about the hero’s brain performance. This would be very valuable information because by understanding how the transmitters are acting during these intense few minutes could allow scientists or doctors to duplicate these findings in people that don’t have the hero characteristic. If it was discovered that it was a certain chemical reaction within the neurotransmitters there is a possibility that medication could be made that would allow people to have this heroic ability temporarily.

If something like this is possible it could be a tremendous benefit for people in professions that has a higher risk potential. This could possibly save many lives not only on the battlefield but also here at home for our firefighters, police departments, and even emergency personnel. This brain function focuses squarely on the preservation of mankind and I think it would be interesting to know more of the specifics of what the brain is doing in the extreme fight or flight instances that we were discussing in class. I think the main obstacle that a study would have to tackle first is the definition of a hero. As the article points out it is much easier to pick a coward out of a crowd than to figure out who is a hero.


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