What is it that sets heroes apart from the rest of us? For example: At the Boston Marathon, most people ran away from the danger. What was different about those who ran to help? 

Most heroes say they’re not special, and only did what anybody else would have done. But the experts say that heroes do seem to have a different mindset from the rest of us. Here are the factors that make a hero – according to psychology professor Alice Eagly from Northwestern University.

  • For one thing, heroes are confident in their ability to help. They believe they have the skills and the know-how to help. And that they can make a difference. Of course, being big and strong creates confidence. But so do emergency skills – like medical training, military service, first aid or CPR classes. 

  • Another critical personality trait heroes have: Empathy. People who rush to help in an emergency instantly understand what it must be like to be in that person’s shoes. And they genuinely care about the safety and well-being of other people. Heroes also tend to take more personal risks. Plenty of kind and caring people freeze up or run from danger. But those who leap into action typically take greater risks in all areas of their lives.  It doesn’t necessarily mean they go sky-diving, or wrestle alligators. It could mean they risk their own money to start a business, or risk rejection by doing stand-up comedy.

  • Another personality trait of heroes: They tend to have above-average skills in coping, stress management, and overcoming their fears. Heroes also tend to be highly optimistic - which helps them look past the immediate danger, and expect a positive outcome. 

  • Finally: Heroes tend to have a strong moral compass. They embrace certain moral values – like integrity, responsibility, compassion and forgiveness. And they’re willing to risk their personal safety to protect what they believe in.