You are here

The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration

This selection of essays focus on superheroes within the pages of popular culture, and attempts to apply Psychological theory to them. Generally, the essays succeed in doing this, but in a few places, the writings have moved more into Sociology, Philosophy, and Literary history. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, but something to be aware of. This said, all the essays do use normal Psychological research structure in the writing, and show the various glossary of research for those interested in at the end of each piece.

As this is a collection of papers, I won't review each individual paper, but there are two that warrant particular positive comment for various reasons:

The positive psychology of superheroes: Here the interest for me lay with just reading on the ways a superhero would actual get some form of pleasure from what they do, especially when it comes to secret identities and lack of monetary reward. Are they able to find joy and happiness in their lives due to their 'superhero' character?

The stereotypical (wonder) woman: This paper stood out for me in several places, the first in that wonder woman was created by a Psychologist, with the goal of showing a strong female lead, and show to the audience the areas of stereotyping in society. It also showed how, since then, this has been lost in the further character development. My main view of Wonder woman has been through the DCAU (DC Animated Universe) animated features and series. In these she is often shown as an equal character of strength, therefore I was often unaware how extreme some of the interpretations had been (eg. JLA secretary and shopoholic), making this essay worth a read.

Overall, this collection was an interesting read, and gave an interesting perspective to certain characters, and also makes the reader think at times in ways they would like to see things develop to improve the characters in certain aspects. It also makes the reading of these papers easier, as we don't need the same explanation into the participants, as the basics of their character are already known to us.
Rating (out of 5): 
Robin S. Rosenberg
Unmasking superhuman abilities and double lives, this analysis showcases nearly two dozen psychologists as their essays explore the minds of pop culture's most intriguing and daring superheroes, including Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and the X-Men. Exposing the inner thoughts that these reclusive heroes would only dare share with trained professionals, heady experts give detailed psychoanalyses of what makes specific superheroes tick while answering such questions as "Why do superheroes choose to be superheroes?" "Why is there so much prejudice against the X-Men" "mutants?" "What makes Spider-Man so altruistic?" and "Why are supervillains so aggressive?" Additionally, the essays tackle why superheroes have such an enduring effect on American culture.


- The positive psychology of superheroes by Christopher Peterson and Nansook Park
- The social psychology of the Justice league of America by Wind Goodfriend
- Superman's personality by Robin S. Rosenberg
- Anti-heroism in the continuum of good and evil by Michael Spivey and Steven Knowlton
- Positive psychology of Peter Parker by Robert Biwas-Diener
- Prejudice lessons from the Xavier Institute by Mikhail Lyubansky
- When I grow up I want to be a superhero by Bryan J. Dik
- Is there a superhero in all of us? by Peter A. Hancock and Gabriella M. Hancock
- Mind-reading superheroes by William J. Ickes
- An appetite for destruction by Chuck Tate
- The stereotypical (Wonder) woman by Chuck Tate
- What would Freud say? by Andrew R. Getzfeld
- Coming to terms with bizarro by Siamak Tundra Naficy
- Coping with stress ... the superhero way by Stephanie R. deLusé
- Arkham Asylum by Bradley J. Daniels
- The incredible Hulk by Christopher J. Patrick and Sarah K. Patrick
- Gender typicality and extremity in popular culture by Kerri L. Johnson, Leah E. Lurye, and Jonathan B. Freeman
- Cracking the superhero's moral code by Peter DeScioli and Robert Kurzban.