Superhero posters can trigger people to help others
Looking at posters of superheroes can trigger prosocial behaviours in people, encouraging them to lend a helping hand to others, a study has found. Superhero movies set inspirational moral examples for many people, but whether they encourage people to help a stranger or donate money is not known.
"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," said Jeffrey D Green of the Virginia Commonwealth University in the US.
"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 behaviours where there is little realism," said Green. The researchers exposed 245 individuals to common household pictures with either subtle superhero images – such as Spiderman and Superman – or neutral images.
Participants primed with superhero images reported greater intentions to engage in prosocial behaviours. The perception of meaning in life was not directly influenced by the superhero prime, but indirectly through helping intentions: the superhero prime increased helping intentions, which, in turn, increased felt meaning in life. Given that the experiment relied on self-reported helping intentions, a second experiment was performed to examine actual helping behaviour.
A further 123 individuals were subtlety primed with a superhero image versus a neutral image, then invited to help with a tedious experimental task for no extra credit. Those primed with the Superman poster were significantly more likely to help than those primed with a bicycle.
"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," said Green.
Future research could advance this work by examining the effects of real-life heroic figures, who may or may not be known personally, which also adds the element of possibly flawed characters.PTI