Axios Finish Line: Everybody needs a hero

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

By Erica Pandey, Reprinted from AXIOS

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

Whether it’s crime-fighting superheroes in comic books, neighbors who shovel out each other’s driveways after a snowstorm or our moms, heroes inspire us.

  • Why it matters: That inspiration we get from heroes makes a difference. Having a hero — someone to look up to — can motivate us and make hard times easier.

“Imagine life without a hero. It would seem to lack something,” says Susan Whitbourne, a psychologist at UMass Amherst.

  • “We need something to aspire to, something more and bigger than just toughing it out, day in and day out.”

Let’s look at some of the psychological benefits of having a hero, as demonstrated in studies.

  • Remembering heroes in times of threat or duress can make us feel safer and increase our perception of our own power — making the threat easier to face, one study from researchers at the University of Leeds notes.
  • Heroes also motivate us to put energy into our own mental and physical development, University of Richmond psychologists Scott Allison and George Goethals write.
  • And heroes strengthen communities, Allison notes. Think of the stories we read and repeat about people in our towns risking their lives to save neighbors from burning homes or raising money for sick kids. They inspire and unite us.

The bottom line: “It’s a cure for cynicism,” Whitbourne says.

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