Stop Waiting for Superman: People prefer using superpowers for their own good than helping others

Moreover, having positive superpowers is preferred over negative ones, with men wanting more of both!

Mumbai, April 21st, 2017.

What would you do if you had Batman or Superman’s powers? Would you help others or would you rather help yourself? Recent research published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology suggests that in contrast to how comic book superheroes behave, ordinary people would use hypothetical superpowers for selfish rather than altruistic purposes.

Our obsession with superpowers is not uncommon. Due to the massive popularity of comics like DC, and Marvel or global events like Comic con, laypersons are familiar with a myriad of superheroes, their superpowers, and what they do in their respective universes. One associates them with having or possessing a superpower and using them to help the world, or destroy a villain. This observation played a pivotal role in the study of investigating altruism and selfishness through the hypothetical use of superpowers conducted by Ahuti Das-Friebel, Nikita Wadhwa, Merin Sanil, Hansika Kapoor, and Sharanya V, researchers at the Department of Psychology at Monk Prayogshala, Mumbai, India.

For the study, participants across the world answered a Superpowers Questionnaire, which included positive and negative powers like healing and psychic persuasion. After noting whether they would like to have such powers, participants also explained how they would use the powers and for what purposes, including benefitting themselves, benefitting others, or actually harming other people.

The data threw up some fascinating insights into how people perceive superpowers. Around 94% of the participants wanted the hypothetical superpowers! While majority of them wanted to use powers for selfish gains rather than altruistic purposes, only a minority of participants indicated wanting to use powers for social harm. Women were more likely to use positive powers for socially beneficial purposes than men, and men wanted positive and negative powers more than women. Given that the readership of superhero comics is often male, and that the superhero genre primes masculinity, this finding was not surprising.

This study provides insight into how the population perceives themselves engaging in socially good and bad behaviours, like philanthropy and dominating others. It also gives us insight into how people emphasize self-serving goals in the short run, but may become more altruistic with their powers as time passes on. The authors mention future avenues for research, suggesting that studying how real-life superheroes, like doctors, soldiers, and the like would choose and use upgraded, enhanced versions of their skills can provide further insight into whether we would use powers for selfish or altruistic purposes.

Article details:

Das-Friebel, A., Wadhwa, N., Sanil, M., Kapoor, H., & V. S. (2017). Investigating altruism and selfishness through the hypothetical use of superpowers. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1—28. doi:10.17.7/002216781769049

A copy of the paper is available to credentialed journalists upon request.

Media Contact:

Archa Joshi

Monk Prayogshala

+91 9167226464

About Monk® Prayogshala® (Sec 8)

We are a not-for-profit academic research institution, conducting research in the social sciences of psychology, economics, sociology and allied disciplines. We undertake projects covering the entire research life cycle from proposals to experimentation through to publishing and feedback integration. We follow rigorous processes in the development of our research proposals, while ensuring that we adhere to ethical considerations prescribed by international organisations. We respect the confidentiality of our participants, their activities and expect all research personnel to adhere to the same. Monk Prayogshala has several national and international publications to its credit and has the sole aim of advancing academic research in India.