Hero Instinct (Definition + Examples)

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Have you ever watched a movie where the main character rushes into a burning building to save someone they love, even though it's dangerous? Chances are, you've felt a little burst of admiration for that hero. But did you know that feeling is not just something we see in movies? It's actually something inside all of us, and it's called the "hero instinct."

The hero instinct is a fascinating idea that explains why people often want to step up and take care of others, even when it's tough. It's like a little voice inside telling us to do good deeds and make a difference.

In this article, we will dive deep into the world of the hero instinct. We'll explore where it comes from, how it shows up in our lives, and how you can tap into it to improve your relationships and feel more fulfilled.

History of the Hero Instinct

man in a cape

Understanding the hero instinct can change how you see relationships and even yourself. It can help you connect better with your friends, family, and romantic partners. Plus, it can help you figure out why you sometimes feel the need to act like a "hero" in certain situations.

When we hear the term "hero instinct," our minds might jump to the realm of superheroes, capes, and daring rescues. However, the concept is much more rooted in the fabric of everyday life and psychology than in the pages of comic books.

The term was first coined by relationship psychologist Dr. James Bauer in 2015. Dr. Bauer wanted to delve into an understanding of the deeply ingrained psychological desires that guide human behavior, especially in men.

He observed that many men have an innate urge to be heroes, not just in extraordinary circumstances but in daily life and relationships. The idea was not just about saving the day but about being reliable, protective, and essential to the well-being of loved ones.

Since its introduction, the concept of the hero instinct has evolved significantly. Various psychologists, researchers, and even laypeople have taken a keen interest in this topic. It has gone from being a subject discussed in scholarly journals to a more mainstream topic that people are eager to understand.

This growing curiosity is not surprising because the hero instinct can deeply influence the quality of relationships and general life satisfaction. Over the years, this concept has been explored across different cultures and age groups.

While initially attributed mainly to men, further studies have shown that it also exists in women, albeit sometimes manifesting differently due to societal norms and expectations. Of course, not everyone fits the box, as some people have other personality types they fit into.

Psychology of the Hero Instinct

The scope of the concept has been expanded by other eminent scholars and theorists as well. Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist, is one of them. She has added a layer of biological understanding to the hero instinct by studying how our brains are inherently wired to act in certain ways.

According to her research, such heroic tendencies are not mere cultural constructs but can be traced back to our evolutionary history. She contends that early humans who demonstrated bravery, leadership, and resourcefulness had better chances of survival.

This made them more attractive mates, ensuring that these heroic traits were passed down through generations. In essence, our ancestors were more likely to survive and find a partner if they could tap into their hero instinct effectively.

Another scholar worth mentioning in this context is Dr. John Gottman, renowned for his groundbreaking work on marital stability and relationship analysis. He believes that the hero instinct can play a crucial role in sustaining long-term relationships.

According to Dr. Gottman, partners who can nurture each other's hero instinct are more likely to develop a secure and fulfilling emotional bond. This further emphasizes the importance of understanding the hero instinct, as it could be a key to unlocking happier, more successful relationships.

Cultural Ideas of the Hero Instinct

But the influence of the hero instinct doesn't stop at academic discussions or scientific research. It has permeated various layers of society and culture. Consider the plethora of action movies, novels, and television shows that celebrate the hero in diverse forms.

Whether it's a fearless warrior, a brilliant detective, or an ordinary person doing extraordinary things, these characters often tap into the hero instinct that resonates deeply with us.

And it's not just fictional characters. Celebrities and social media influencers often share personal stories or tales of heroism that go viral, demonstrating how strongly the public connects with the idea of the hero instinct.

Moreover, the concept has sparked widespread debates on online platforms and even within family dinner conversations. Issues like gender roles, societal expectations, and ethical considerations have all been examined through the lens of the hero instinct. People have begun to question traditional ideas and stereotypes that may limit the expression of this instinct.

The hero instinct is not merely a catchy term but a robust psychological concept that has evolved significantly since its inception. It has received extensive scholarly attention, contributed to understanding human behavior, and infiltrated mainstream culture and discourse.

Whether you realize it or not, the hero instinct is deeply embedded in the way we live, love, and relate to one another. Understanding this concept is not just an intellectual exercise but a journey toward achieving more meaningful relationships and a more fulfilling life.

What is the Hero Instinct?


Now that we've talked about how the hero instinct came to be a topic of discussion, let's get into what it actually is. If you boil it down, the hero instinct is a deep-rooted psychological urge that drives people, especially men, to step up and protect those they care about.

It's like a built-in code that tells you when to act courageously or make sacrifices for others. But it's more than just running into a burning building to save someone; it also shows up in the little things. Maybe it's helping a friend move, standing up for someone being bullied, or even just listening when someone needs to talk. These actions, big or small, are all parts of what makes up the hero instinct.

You might be wondering if there's any science behind this. Well, it turns out that psychologists have been studying similar behavior for years, just under different names.

For example, some researchers have called it "altruism," which means the willingness to do things for others without expecting anything in return. Studies have even shown that our brains release feel-good chemicals like dopamine when we help others, sort of like a natural reward for being good.

While many scientists agree that biology plays a role, society also has a big influence. From a young age, people are taught about heroes in stories, movies, and games. Little boys are often encouraged to be strong and brave, while little girls might be taught to admire those qualities.

These cultural messages stick with us as we grow up, shaping how we understand and express our own hero instinct. For instance, a man might feel the need to be the provider in a family, or a woman might feel a desire to care for her loved ones.

It’s not that one is better than the other; they’re just different ways this instinct can manifest based on how society nudges us.

However, not everyone agrees with the traditional ways this instinct is portrayed. Critics argue that this kind of thinking can reinforce gender stereotypes.

For example, if society expects only men to express the hero instinct, then what about women who are brave, strong, and protective? They also have the hero instinct but may not get recognized or celebrated for it.

It's important to realize that the hero instinct is not exclusive to one gender or one way of life; it's a universal human experience that can look different for each person.

But it's not all black and white; our understanding of the hero instinct continues to grow and change.

For example, modern psychology is exploring how this instinct interacts with other parts of our personality. Are naturally shy people less likely to show their hero instinct, or do they just show it in quieter ways? Questions like these are being researched, and the answers could give us even more insight into how the hero instinct works.

So why is understanding all this important? Because recognizing the hero instinct in yourself and others can help improve your relationships. Whether it's with your partner, family, friends, or coworkers, knowing how this instinct shows up can lead to better communication and stronger bonds.

For example, if you understand that your partner has a strong hero instinct, you can find ways to let them express it, making them feel fulfilled and strengthening your relationship in the process.

The hero instinct is a complex but vital part of human psychology. It's influenced by both biology and society and shows up in many different ways in our daily lives. While the concept has its critics and is still being studied, what's clear is that it has a significant impact on our relationships and personal happiness. As we continue to explore this instinct further, we'll likely discover even more about what drives us to be heroes in our own stories.

Examples of the Hero Instinct

Alright, we've talked a lot about what the hero instinct is and where it comes from, but what does it look like in real life? Let's dive into some concrete examples, both from real-world situations and the stories we love, to get a clearer picture of the hero instinct in action.

Here are 29 examples of behaviors, desires, and manifestations of the hero instinct:

  1. Protectiveness: A desire to keep loved ones safe from harm.
  2. Providing: The drive to be the primary provider for his family or loved ones.
  3. Problem-Solving: An inclination to find solutions when presented with challenges.
  4. Taking Responsibility: Stepping up to handle situations without being asked.
  5. Leadership: Assuming a leadership role in social, familial, or professional settings.
  6. Guidance: Offering advice and direction to those who look up to him.
  7. Recognition: Seeking acknowledgment and validation for achievements and efforts.
  8. Commitment: Demonstrating loyalty and dedication in relationships.
  9. Physical Strength: An unconscious push to showcase physical prowess, often linked to protection.
  10. Emotional Strength: Offering a steady, reassuring presence during tough times.
  11. Chivalry: Old-school gestures like opening doors, paying for dinners, etc.
  12. Teaching: The desire to impart knowledge and skills, especially to younger generations.
  13. Heroic Imagery: Identifying with characters in movies, games, or stories that play heroic roles.
  14. Self-Sacrifice: Willingness to put oneself in harm's way for others.
  15. Boundary Setting: Establishing clear boundaries to protect and prioritize loved ones.
  16. Ambition: The drive to achieve great things, both for personal satisfaction and to benefit others.
  17. Competitiveness: A desire to be the best, particularly in areas that have societal value.
  18. Mentorship: Taking someone under his wing to guide and nurture their growth.
  19. Adventurousness: Seeking challenges and thrills, often as a form of proving oneself.
  20. Resilience: The ability to bounce back from setbacks and not be easily defeated.
  21. Risk-Taking: Venturing into unknown territories or situations for a greater good.
  22. Courage: Standing up for what's right, even in the face of opposition.
  23. Trustworthiness: Being someone others can depend on in times of need.
  24. Persistence: Not giving up until a goal is achieved or a problem is solved.
  25. Stability: Offering a consistent and reliable presence in the lives of loved ones.
  26. Determination: Pursuing goals with unwavering focus.
  27. Defensiveness: Standing up against anything or anyone that threatens his tribe or values.
  28. Empathy: Even while being the "rock," showing understanding and compassion.
  29. Desire to be Needed: Wanting to feel indispensable in the lives of others, especially loved ones.

Let's talk about something most people can relate to: friendships. Imagine you have a friend who always seems to be there when you need help. Whether it's helping you move to a new house or being a shoulder to cry on during tough times, this friend always steps up.

This is the hero instinct in a nutshell. Your friend feels compelled to be there for you, to protect and support you. This isn't about getting something in return; it's about fulfilling that internal drive to be someone's hero.

But friendships aren't the only place where the hero instinct shines. It also comes into play in family dynamics. Think about parents who work hard day and night to provide for their kids. They may not be wearing capes or fighting villains, but their actions are driven by the same instinct—to protect and provide for the people they care about.

Fathers and mothers might express this instinct differently due to social norms or personal choices, but the underlying motivation remains the same.

The workplace is another arena where the hero instinct can be easily spotted. You might have a coworker who always takes the lead on difficult projects or a manager who stands up for their team when upper management makes unreasonable demands.

These actions are examples of the hero instinct compelling individuals to step up and take responsibility, often putting their own comfort or interests aside for the well-being of others.

Now let's shift gears a bit and look at fictional examples, which often amplify the hero instinct to make for engaging stories. Superhero movies are the most obvious, but the hero instinct is present in all kinds of tales.

Take Harry Potter, for instance. He’s not just battling wizards and mythical creatures; he's also standing up for his friends and making sacrifices for the greater good.

Or Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games," who volunteers to participate in a deadly competition to protect her sister. These fictional characters echo the hero instinct we all have within us, albeit in more dramatic settings.

Even in romance novels and films, the hero instinct is frequently at play. Characters often go to great lengths to win over their love interest, not just with grand gestures but also through everyday acts of kindness and support. This resonates with us because it mirrors what we seek in our own relationships—a partner who can be our hero in both big and small ways.

However, it's important to note that the hero instinct isn't always positive. Sometimes people can take it too far, becoming overprotective or controlling. This happens when the instinct is driven more by personal insecurities than by a genuine desire to help others.

It's a good reminder that like any aspect of human behavior, the hero instinct should be balanced and self-aware.

So, what’s the takeaway from all these examples? It's that the hero instinct is not just some abstract concept; it's a real, tangible force that influences our actions and decisions in various aspects of life.

Understanding these examples can give us valuable insights into our own behavior and that of others. It helps us recognize why we act the way we do and how to channel our inner hero in a positive, constructive manner.

Healthy Use of the Hero Instinct

Now that we've explored what the hero instinct is, where it comes from, and how it shows up in our lives, let's talk about how to harness this force for good.

Whether you're looking to understand yourself better, improve your relationships, or just navigate life more effectively, tapping into your hero instinct can be a game-changer. So, what are some practical ways to do this?

Firstly, self-awareness is key. Take some time to reflect on your actions and decisions. Ask yourself when you feel most alive and engaged. Chances are, these moments correlate with instances where your hero instinct is at play.

Maybe you feel a sense of fulfillment when you're able to solve a problem at work, or perhaps you're happiest when you're there for your friends and family. Recognizing these triggers can help you become more attuned to your hero instinct and seek out opportunities to activate it.

Next, let’s talk relationships. Understanding your partner’s hero instinct can unlock a new level of emotional connection. This doesn't mean you have to be a damsel in distress or require saving; it simply means allowing space for your partner to express their protective and nurturing side.

For example, if your partner loves to fix things, instead of hiring a handyman right away, why not ask for their help first? Or if your partner is great at giving advice, make it a point to consult them when you're faced with a difficult decision.

By doing so, you not only solve the immediate problem but also give your partner a chance to fulfill their hero instinct, strengthening your bond in the process.

But what about the workplace? The hero instinct applies here too. If you're a team leader or manager, understanding your employees' hero instinct can make a world of difference. Give them tasks and responsibilities that allow them to shine and make meaningful contributions. Not only will this increase their job satisfaction, but it will also boost productivity and team morale.

How to Nurture Your Hero Instinct

For those who feel their hero instinct isn't as active as they'd like, there are ways to nurture it. Start by taking small steps to be more present and helpful in the lives of those around you.

Volunteer for a community service project, offer to help a neighbor with their groceries, or simply listen when someone needs to talk. You'll be surprised how these small acts can make a big difference in your emotional well-being.

And let's not forget self-improvement. Cultivating skills that make you more capable and resourceful can activate your hero instinct. Maybe take a first aid course, learn how to cook a new dish, or even acquire a new language.

These skills not only enrich your life but also make you more equipped to assist and protect others, thereby fueling your hero instinct.

However, a word of caution: it’s essential to keep your motives in check. Helping others should stem from a genuine desire to do good, not from a need for validation or control. Misguided heroism can lead to issues like overprotectiveness or codependency, which can be damaging in the long run.

Tapping into your hero instinct or understanding it in others isn’t rocket science. It’s about being aware, taking small but meaningful actions, and having the right motivations. By doing so, you enrich your life and the lives of those around you.

The hero instinct is not just some theoretical concept; it's a practical tool for improving your relationships and finding deeper satisfaction in your everyday activities. Remember, you don't have to be a superhero to tap into your hero instinct—you just have to be willing to take the first step.

Debunking Common Hero Instinct Myths

female handyman

Understanding the hero instinct isn't just about knowing what it is, but also about what it isn't. There are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding this concept that can lead to misconceptions. Let’s tackle these myths head-on.

Myth 1: The Hero Instinct is Just for Men

A common misunderstanding is that the hero instinct is exclusively a male trait. This couldn't be further from the truth. While the term is often associated with men, the instinct to protect, nurture, and act courageously is universal, crossing gender boundaries.

Women also exhibit these tendencies in various roles they undertake, whether it's as caregivers, professionals, or activists. So, remember, the hero instinct is not gender-exclusive; it's a part of the human experience.

Myth 2: Having a Hero Instinct Means You’re Always Strong and Brave

Another prevalent myth is that if you have a strong hero instinct, you must be perpetually brave and unflappable. This is a misleading notion. Having a hero instinct doesn’t mean you're immune to fear or vulnerability. It means that you possess the drive to act courageously when the situation calls for it, even if you feel unsure or scared. True heroism isn't about the absence of fear but about how you manage and confront it.

Myth 3: The Hero Instinct Encourages Toxic Masculinity

Some critics argue that the concept of the hero instinct might perpetuate harmful stereotypes around masculinity, like the expectation that men should always be tough, unemotional, or dominant.

However, the hero instinct, when understood correctly, is about positive attributes like protection, support, and kindness. It's not about being domineering or suppressing emotions. Being a hero means being responsible and caring, traits that can be exhibited in a healthy way by anyone, regardless of gender.

Myth 4: Activating the Hero Instinct Means Being a Damsel in Distress

Particularly in romantic relationships, there's a misconception that to allow someone to act on their hero instinct, you must play the role of the "damsel in distress." This is a dated and incorrect view.

Encouraging a partner's hero instinct doesn’t mean feigning helplessness; it means allowing space for them to be supportive and protective in a balanced and respectful way. This benefits the relationship by deepening emotional connections without fostering dependency.

Myth 5: The Hero Instinct Is Always Positive

It might be tempting to think that the hero instinct can only lead to good outcomes, but like any psychological trait, it has its dark sides. When misdirected, the hero instinct can manifest as overprotectiveness, control issues, or even codependency. It’s essential to be aware of these pitfalls to ensure that the instinct is channeled in a healthy, balanced way.

Criticisms and Controversies

While the concept of the hero instinct has resonated with many people and has been applied in various fields, it's not without its critics. Delving into some of these criticisms can provide a more well-rounded understanding of this psychological phenomenon.

Lack of Scientific Backing

One of the most significant criticisms of the hero instinct concept is the lack of empirical evidence to support it. Though the idea has gained popular traction, some experts argue that it leans more toward pop psychology than rigorous scientific theory. Critics point out that terms like "hero instinct" are often used more in self-help circles than in academic research, calling into question their validity and reliability.

Gender Bias and Stereotyping

As we touched upon in the myths section, another common criticism is that the hero instinct concept can inadvertently perpetuate gender stereotypes. Critics argue that framing the instinct predominantly as a male trait may reinforce traditional gender roles, potentially limiting how women are viewed in society. This could have ramifications in various settings, from the workplace to relationships, as it risks pigeonholing women into certain roles while expecting men to take on others.

Oversimplification of Complex Behaviors

Human behavior is a product of various influences, including upbringing, environment, and individual choices. Critics of the hero instinct argue that reducing complex actions and decisions to a single instinct can be overly simplistic and misleading. By attributing acts of bravery or kindness solely to an innate "hero instinct," we may overlook other important factors such as education, social norms, and individual experiences.

The "Dark Side" of Heroism

While the hero instinct is often portrayed in a positive light, focusing only on its beneficial aspects can ignore its potential downsides. Critics point out that this instinct can sometimes lead to unhealthy behaviors like overprotectiveness, control issues, or even a savior complex. The desire to be a hero can, in some instances, morph into a need to control or dominate others, which is a point of concern for psychologists studying this phenomenon.

Commercial Exploitation

Finally, some critics argue that the concept of the hero instinct has been commercialized and exploited, particularly in the self-help industry. Books, courses, and seminars promising to "unlock" or "activate" one's hero instinct for personal or relationship success have proliferated. This commercial angle can sometimes dilute the concept's nuances, making it a buzzword more than a well-understood psychological theory.


The hero instinct is a fascinating concept that has captured the imaginations and interests of people from all walks of life. At its core, it speaks to the deeply ingrained human desire to protect, nurture, and make meaningful contributions to our communities and loved ones.

From relationships to workplaces to self-improvement, understanding this instinct offers a lens through which we can view many aspects of human behavior and interaction.

However, like any psychological theory, the hero instinct is not without its limitations, controversies, and criticisms. While it might provide a compelling narrative, it’s crucial to remember that human behavior is complex and influenced by numerous factors. The hero instinct can serve as a helpful guide, but it's not a definitive answer or a one-size-fits-all solution.

As we've discussed, there are criticisms about its lack of scientific rigor, potential for reinforcing gender stereotypes, and risks of oversimplification or commercial exploitation.

So where does this leave us? Armed with a more nuanced understanding, that's where. Whether you're looking to better understand yourself, improve your relationships, or simply be more mindful in your daily interactions, acknowledging both the merits and criticisms of the hero instinct can provide a balanced perspective.

As you navigate life's challenges and joys, you now have another tool in your toolkit. But like any tool, it's most effective when used wisely, and with a full understanding of both its powers and limitations.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, September). Hero Instinct (Definition + Examples). Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/hero-instinct/.

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