Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2017), 17pp. doi: 10.1177/0022167817708064


Copyright © 2017 Ari Kohen, Matt Langdon, and Brian R. Riches. Published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


Heroes are not born; they’re made. This article examines the commonalities in the backgrounds of people who take heroic action on behalf of others to theorize the ways in which our society can encourage citizens to prepare themselves to act heroically. In looking closely at a variety of people who have acted heroically, in a single moment or over time, we argue they have at least four crucial commonalities: They imagined situations where help was needed and considered how they would act; they had an expansive sense of empathy, not simply with those who might be considered “like them” but also those who might be thought of as “other” in some decisive respect; they regularly took action to help people, often in small ways; and they had some experience or skill that made them confident about undertaking the heroic action in question.