Watching superhero movies just might help you become a better person.
A new study has found that exposure to superhero imagery, even in subtle forms, can inspire people to help others and engage in pro-social activities.
While the imagery wasn’t enough to reshape participants’ perception of their own purpose, the researchers found it did boost their helping intentions, which in turn caused some to feel their lives had more meaning.
Watching superhero movies just might help you become a better person. A new study has found that exposure to superhero imagery, even in subtle forms, can inspire people to help others and engage in pro-social activities. A still from the 2016 Superman film is pictured
‘Given that superheroes are an increasingly large and accessible part of our cultures, even if merely symbolically, we were interested in exploring their role in inspiring virtuous and meaningful lives,’ says Dr Jeffrey Green of the Virginia Commonwealth University.
‘Heroes come in many shapes and forms. Some are fictional and others are real-life role models.
‘We decided to study the effect of well-known fictional heroes, such as Superman or Spiderman, as people may tend to be more motivated to emulate behaviors where there is a little realism.’
More than 200 participants in the study were exposed to common household images which either contained superheroes or neutral objects, such as a bicycle.
Those who were primed with the superhero imagery reported they were more likely to partake in prosocial behaviors.
In a second experiment, participants were invited to actually help with a tedious experiment, rather than simply report their intentions.
And, the team found those who had been primed with a Superman poster were much more likely to help than those exposed to neutral imagery.
‘These experiments highlight how even the subtle activation of heroic constructs through visual images of superheroes may influence intentions to help as well as actual helping behaviour,’ Green says.
Researchers found that subtle superhero imagery boosted participants’ helping intentions, which in turn caused some to feel their lives had more meaning. Stock image
DOES GENEROSITY BRING HAPPINESS?
Being generous really does make people happier, according to research from an international team of experts.
Neurons in an area of the brain associated with generosity activate neurons in the ventral striatum, which are associated with happiness, the study found.
A group of 50 volunteers in Switzerland took part in a spending experiment, with each given 25 Swiss Francs (£20/$25) per week for four weeks.
As part of the experiment, participants performed an independent decision-making task, in which they could behave more or less generously while brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
They were asked to choose to give between three and 25 francs of their money as a present to a recipient different from those previously chosen.
The researchers found that participants who had committed to spending their endowment on others behaved more generously in the decision-making task.
They also discovered greater self-reported increases in happiness as compared to the control group.
The full results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
In the future, the team says it would be useful to explore the effects of real-life heroic figures as well, instead of just fictional superheroes.
Different types of media, including talking or writing about a hero, may also influence a person’s prosocial inclinations.
‘Heroes loom large as exemplars of morality,’ Green says.
‘They often embody virtues that we wish to express in our lives. If subtle images of heroes trigger such positive behaviors, their inspirational role may well have the potential to extend beyond the prosocial behaviors explored in this study.’