The Effects of Priming Heroes on Helping Intentions and Meaning in Life

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Psychology

Document Type


Event Date



Two experiments studied the effects of priming fictional superheroes (Experiment 1) and personal heroes (Experiment 2). We hypothesized that when primed with heroes, people would be more likely to help, and would report more meaning in life. In Experiment 1 participants from MTurk (N=241) were randomly assigned to a hero condition, in which they were implicitly primed with images of popular fictional superheroes, such as Superman or Spider Man, or a neutral condition, which did not include these heroic logos. After this priming, participants were given hypothetical situations in which they were to rate how likely they would be to help someone, and the Meaning in Life Questionnaire. Experiment 2 consisted of explicitly priming of a personal hero. Participants (N=257) were randomly assigned to instructed to write a paragraph describing their personal hero or to a neutral condition. They were then given the same measures as in Experiment 1, in which they reported their likelihood to exhibit helping intentions and their sense of meaning in life. For Experiment 1, results showed that when implicitly primed with a fictional superhero, participants reported higher helping intentions, which was associated with greater meaning in life. However, in Experiment 2, when asked to write about a personal hero, participants reported lower meaning in life in comparison to control conditions, which was mediated by lower helping intentions. Although the results from Experiment 1 support our hypothesis, whereas Experiment 2 did not, the difference in responses is intriguing. There is an oppositional effect that occurred when implicitly primed with fictional heroes relative to explicitly reflecting on personal heroes. It is likely that the content (abstract versus personal hero) and method (implicit versus explicit) of the hero priming induction matters greatly. The complex relationship between these variables and method in the current experiments are discussed.


With support from The John Templeton Foundation

This document is currently not available here.