Our Heroes, Ourselves

From The Hunger Games to Harry Potter, heroic fantasy is hot stuff. These modern epics tap into our frustrated impulse to be 21st-century knights, reflect changing social norms—and may even help unleash the workaday hero in each of us.

Altruism

Acting with an unselfish regard for others doesn't always come naturally, even though many psychologists believe we're hard-wired for empathy since cooperative behavior allowed our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions.

Identity

"We contain multitudes," wrote Walt Whitman, referring not to the highly-contested diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder but to the fact that we see ourselves radically differently in different contexts.

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is not just about getting to the church on time, in a freshly-ironed outfit. It is a fundamental personality trait that influences whether people set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices or behave impulsively, and take seriously obligations to others.

Gender

In the old days, it was so simple: Men hunted and women raised the kids. Then we moved out of caves, invented gender studies, and learned a bit about genetics. Now nothing is clear-cut.