The Psychology of Heroism: Why Some Leap in Front of Bullets

Health & Family

On Aug. 5, when a gunman drove to a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee and started shooting his 9-mm handgun, some ran and some leapt to stop him. One of the six who died was temple president Santwat Singh Kaleka, who has been hailed as a hero by witnesses who say he tried to disarm the shooter. The first cop on the scene, Brian Murphy, took nine bullets as he also tried to help. Miraculously, Murphy wasn’t killed.

Why do some people confront danger while most scamper for the exits? Altruism emerges in many disasters. A few weeks ago, three women came forward to say they survived the cinema shooting in Aurora, Colo., because their boyfriends shielded them. All three men are dead. In January, when the colossal cruiser Costa Concordia foundered on the western coast of Italy, a 57-year-old crewmember stayed aboard and helped others even as his…

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