People use the term hero frequently in our culture, and most people can easily name several heroes. Our research explores how people think about heroes as well as the determinants of heroic behavior. People's heroes may be real-world figures or fictional characters. They are thought to be competent enough to achieve at a high level, moral enough to do the right thing in difficult situations, or both. People's conceptions of heroes reflect both schemas about what heroes are like and narrative structures about how they act. We consider the possibility that images of heroes and common hero narratives reflect evolutionarily based archetypes. Given that typical conceptions of heroes include high levels of competence and morality, we consider aspects of self, including self-efficacy, self-affirmation, self-theories of intelligence, self-guides, and self-control that enable people to achieve at high levels and to act morally, even when doing so is difficult. We discuss research showing that people's needs for heroes prepare them to perceive struggle and to root for underdogs. Work on a death positivity bias and admiration for martyrs illustrates the centrality of self-sacrifice in hero schemas and the perceptions of heroes. Finally, we propose a taxonomy of heroes based on various dimensions of influence such as strength, duration, direction, exposure, and origins. The subtypes of heroes in our taxonomy are Transforming, Transfigured, Traditional, Transparent, Transposed, Tragic, Transitional, Transitory, and Trending. In addition, we consider a Transcendent Hero category, referring to heroes who affect their admirers in ways that combine the influences of other types.

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Copyright © 2012 Elsevier. This book chapter first appeared in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology.

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