Tag Archives: Heroes

A moment to remember our coronavirus heroes

The coronavirus pandemic has already infected millions of people and killed over 200,000 — and we’re still just seeing the tip of the iceberg. It is important to mourn the losses, to learn the lessons that need to be learned, and plan for the future.

But it’s also important to praise the heroes who help us get through this ordeal.

Not all superheroes wear capes. Many wear scrubs. Image credits: Luis Melendez.

Li Wenliang, MD, is without a doubt a hero. The Chinese ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital warned his colleagues in December 2019 about a possible outbreak of a mysterious illness. The illness, Wenliang wrote, resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This would later be acknowledged as COVID-19. Instead of heeding his warning, Chinese authorities censored him and threatened to jail him. Wenliang became a whistleblower and a hero — both in China, and beyond. He died from the disease on 7 February 2020, at age 33. Li Wenliang is probably the first hero of the coronavirus pandemic. But he is not nearly the last.

Without a doubt, the biggest heroes are the millions of health workers all around the world, putting their lives (and sanity) on the line every single day. Doctors, nurses, technicians, hospital staff, first responders, emergency personnel, trainees — everyone working tirelessly to keep the coronavirus flood under control has offered invaluable service to the community. We also need to mention the immensely important work carried out by doctors in Lombardy, Italy, who were the first to tell the world what to expect.

It’s not just health workers, either. All around the world, society has been forced to reconsider who “essential” workers are. The farmers working to grow our food, the drivers distributing everything and keeping everything moving, the cashiers showing up to work every single day, the chefs, the bakers, garbage collectors, the seamstresses — without them, any semblance of normality from our life would disappear. Everyone working through these trying times to keep the world running is a hero in their own right.

To the inventors and engineers developing new solutions, 3D-printing ventilators, and constantly working on innovative solutions that save lives, to the artists and booksellers helping to keep us sane through this whole thing, and to the manufacturers that still produce the items we use every day without even thinking about it — thank you.

While some politicians fumbled their response or tried to downplay the risks, we must recognize those who took the necessary precautions. Those who put people’s wellbeing above political gain, who followed the best scientific guidance and just that which suited them also deserve praise.

Lastly, to all of you who work hard and care for your loved ones every day, who keep it together in this trying time, and who are doing your best to stay informed — we salute you.


Six-month olds like people who protect the weak, suggesting we’re born with a love for superheroes

Humans may have an innate feel for ‘wrong’ and ‘right,’ new research suggests. The paper describes how infants seem to recognize heroic acts even before reaching verbal ages. This might also help explain the popularity heroes enjoy in cultures throughout the world.


Image credits Andrew Bishop / Flickr.

There’s just something about heroes that make you go all fuzzy inside, isn’t there? From the Spartans in 300 to Batman, we look up to them and root for them through impossible odds and poorly lit alleyways. If you take a moment to think about it, though, those Spartans are doing the exact thing as the Persians — murdering the other guys. Batman himself is pretty shady too, blowing stuff up, kicking people left and right, and generally filling ER rooms to the brim while racking up a huge repairs bill for the city.

So why then do we root for them? Well, there is one thing that sets them apart from the other side — both Batman and the Spartans are doing what they do to defend the weak. According to researchers from Japan, his distinction is enough to turn our brains into groupies — even before we can speak.


A team comprised of researchers from the Kyoto and Tokyo Universities led by Masako Myowa found that infants as young as six months of age — under the age of verbalization — show appreciation for figures who take action to protect others.

The study included 132 infants of various age, but the most interesting findings of the study came from work performed with infants under the age of vocalization. Twenty such infants were shown a series of animations with one sphere-with-eyes chasing and then colliding with a similar sphere. A third actor, “a colored cubic geometric agent with eyes” was shown watching this interaction from a distance. The character was represented in a different color depending on what course of action it would take — one version of the animation has this third party intervene following the bump by placing itself between the spheres, and in the other, he simply leaves without taking any action to defend the victim.

After viewing the animation, the infants were given replicas of the intervening and non-intervening character to chose between. Out of the 20 six-month-old infants, 17 chose the green (interfering) cube over the orange (non-interfering) cube. The researchers controlled for differences in attention length — such as the infants looking more at the green cube than the other — and reported “no significant differences for looking time between animations either for the peripheral [or center] area of interest.”


I’d watch this show.
Image credits Kanakogi et al., (2017), Nature.

So the babies allowed both actors the same level of scrutiny and paid both the same amount of attention, but overwhelmingly chose the interfering cube — suggesting a clear preference for this actor based on his action. Since the researchers were working with babies under the age of vocalization, there was a chance they couldn’t distinguish between an accident and a willing act of aggression. So the team performed the experiment again to see if the infants showed preference to the green cube because he merely stopped an unpleasant event, or because he was taking an active social role in protecting someone.

“It is possible that infants in our study regarded the interaction between the spherical figures in mere physical rather than socially aggressive (animate) terms, and as a result preferred the agent that stopped the negative physical event rather than the aggressive interaction per se,” the team writes.

“[So] we eliminated the perceivable ‘social animacy or agency’ of both the interacting spheres by making them appear as if they (i) had no eyes (rather than having eyes), (ii) were non-self-propelled (rather than self-propelled), and (iii) involved no distortion on contact (rather than showing distortion on contact).”

This second experiment also included 20 (new) 6-month-old infants, and they evenly selected between the two cubes — 10 picks for each of them. Just like with the first experiment, there were “no significant differences for looking times between animations.” The third experiment tested whether the infants were choosing the green cube because “he was social”, as it engaged with the spheres regardless if their interaction was negative or positive — and this wasn’t the case.

In short, it seems that there is an innate sense of justice in humans, which only grows more nuanced and complex as infants grow and understand more about justice. The team’s next goal is to track how this understanding develops over time.

“In this study, six-month-olds didn’t show a preference for intentional help over accidental help, whereas ten-month-olds did,” says Professor Myowa.

The paper “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” has been published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.