Fictional heroes have real life application

By Contributing Writer

by Joshua D. Lindsey

Contributing Writer

While it is highly unlikely that a normal human will someday obtain the powers of flight, super speed or heat vision, recent research indicates something real may be passed from fictional super heroes to everyday people.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and conducted at the University at Buffalo, suggests that men who personally identify with superheroes have higher self-esteem.

Ariana Young, author of the study and a doctoral student at the University at Buffalo, said her research was based on a previous study that showed women tend to embrace the thin body type of their favorite celebrities, which lead them to perceive their own bodies as thinner.

“We wanted to see if a similar process would occur with men,” Young said. “Specifically, we wondered if men might feel more muscular after exposure to a favorite muscular media figure.”

In the study, researchers showed images of both buff and lanky popular superheroes to undergraduate males.

The students were then asked to rate the superheroes and were placed into groups based on how connected they felt to each one.

Researchers then tested the subjects with a dynamometer, a device used to measure force and power. Men who had parasocial relationships with superheroes, not only had no negative effects on their body esteem, but displayed greater strength on the dynamometer.

Dr. Lawrence Rubin, practicing psychologist and professor at St. Thomas University, said he believes men attach themselves to superheroes because they are the rarified essence of what men believe masculinity should be.

According to Rubin, a man more in touch with reality is less likely to develop deep connections with fictional characters.

“Some teenagers and men develop very unhealthy fantasy-based bonds to these fictional characters and others develop healthy bonds,” Rubin said.

Rubin believes that Americans live in a culture that is driven by speed, power, competition and strength, and there is too much pressure on men to emulate those qualities. As a result, body dissatisfaction is a growing problem among men and is associated with low self-esteem.

Nicolas Martinez, freshman film & video major, said that while it isn’t necessary for his own characters who he looks up to appear physically fit in order to show strong willpower, he does place emphasis on the character’s appearance.

“I place a good deal of importance on the physique of the character depending on their personality,” Martinez said. “Physical appearance is important, but functionality and harmony are my highest priorities.”

Young said the results of the study matched her original hypothesis and were not surprising, considering her previous work. The researchers plan on tackling other issues, such as heroism and helpful behavior.

“We predict that both men and women who have a parasocial relationship with a particular superhero will be more motivated to help others following exposure to that superhero,” she said. “Not only might they be in a helping mindset, but we also expect them to actually take action and provide assistance to others in

unfortunate situations.”