Fostering Heroism in Fourth and Fifth Grade Students

Elisabeth Heiner, PsyDWright Institute Clinical Psychology Program alumnus Elisabeth Heiner, Psy.D., has adapted her dissertation into an article, which was recently published in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology. The article, "Fostering Heroism in Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Students," was published online by the journal in January 2018. The print version will be available later this year.

A desire to research prosocial, heroic behavior led Dr. Heiner to formulate a study that “empirically evaluated the potential effect of a training program...designed to foster heroism in children.” This grew to be her dissertation, which she completed with committee members Dr. Jerry Diller and Dr. Karen Wise.

Dr. Heiner researched the effectiveness of teaching children to think of themselves as “‘heroes in waiting,’ [who] can stand up to injustices they may witness, such as bullying,“ and measured how this affected their internal feelings of courage.

Dr. Heiner explains that “the goal of the current study was to add to research on positive character traits generally, but more specifically, to contribute to literature on heroism and courage in young children.” She focused her study on fourth- and fifth-grade students because middle childhood is an important period of identity formation. It is “both an opportune and difficult time to teach moral education to children because while they are able to empathize with others more than they were able to at younger ages, they are also more vulnerable to peer influence.”

Dr. Heiner’s research has been well-received. In April 2018, she accepted an invitation to serve on a panel discussing Psychology and Heroism at the Hero Roundtable in San Francisco. Dr. Heiner has also been invited to work with the heroism research team of Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project. These projects are discussed in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which Heiner's research is lauded as "the first empirical evidence for statistically significant changes in courageous action in schoolchildren."

To learn more about Dr. Heiner’s findings, click here to access the article as it is currently available through the journal's website. Feel free to email with further inquiry.

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