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Idle Science

Study Finds Most Would Become Supervillians If Given Powers 419

It probably comes as no surprise, but researchers have found that most of us would gladly put on a mask and fight do-gooders if given super powers. From the article: "But power also acts like strong cologne that affects both the wearer and those within smelling distance, Galinsky noted. The person gains an enhanced sense of their importance, and other people may regard them with greater respect as well as extend leniency toward their actions. That combination makes for an easy slide into corruption."


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Study Finds Most Would Become Supervillians If Given Powers

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  • Well that depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xelios ( 822510 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:36AM (#33868784)
    One man's villain is another man's hero.
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:39AM (#33868822)

    For the vast majority of people, the most heroic thing they could do if ever presented with Superman-like powers would be to immediately reject them. A real human presented with such powers would likely be a much greater threat to the rest of humanity than a help. Sure, he might start out rescuing cats from trees and people from burning buildings, but how long before he has a mood swing or a temper tantrum? How long before he succumbs to narcissism and the kind of arrogance and paranoia that god-like powers would bring. How long before he comes to resent humanity for not loving him enough, or worshiping him at the level he has come to believe is sufficient?

    And all that's not even factoring in the reality that this is a human being with sexual desires, greed, etc. How would this real life Clark Kent react the first time a girl turned him down for a date, or he didn't have money to pay his credit card bill? You can get into some VERY dark territory there.

    Again, such a superhero would almost certainly be way more of a threat to humanity than a help. Unless there was an alien invasion or giant meteor strike imminent that he could stop, he would be much more likely to cause us way more harm than good.

  • The intellectuals (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Petbe ( 1790948 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:41AM (#33868848)
    For myself, I would want to be the villain since they tend to be more intelligent. Granted, they time to time do stupid things like killing the hero slowly and explaining all their plans.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:42AM (#33868850)

    Have you even met the general public? Good is not the word I would use to describe them.

  • by stanlyb ( 1839382 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:43AM (#33868874)
    I would destroy ACTA, DRM, IP and all the rest monsters. Anyone with me?
  • by Reilaos ( 1544173 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:44AM (#33868884) Homepage

    The fact that you value intelligence over morality already makes you the villain.

    Also: Doctor Manhattan > Ozymandias.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:45AM (#33868902)

    He has the power of a god, but deep down, he's still Clark Kent.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:48AM (#33868950)

    I don't think a good proportion of us would go that far.

    Give me superman-like powers and I'd be trying to drastically change the world, not protect it.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:51AM (#33868980)

    How about just being selfish and pretty amoral? I bet a lot of folks could do that. It's not plotting-to-take-over-the-world villainry, but it's not good either.

  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:51AM (#33868982)

    "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

    - Kay MIB

  • Well, Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alicat1194 ( 970019 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:03AM (#33869140)
    If TV and movie have taught us anything, it's that the bad guys have the best toys, the best costumes, and more amusing evil sidekicks (and henchmen. Can't forget the henchmen).

    Compared with that, why would anyone want to be a good guy?

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:07AM (#33869188) Journal

    Maybe, but that's not what those studies say. You seem to assume that someone has a conscious choice to be hero or villain and intentionally choose villain.

    Most people seem to have that kind of delusion. For them you're either clearly doing good and you know it, or you're aware that pillaging and burning is wrong but you deliberately chose evil. Their world has some people who basically chose to be villains and know they're villains.

    You can even look at fictional organizations like SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) in otherwise non-parody movies. And it comes easy to swallow that someone would come up with a business plan like, basically, "I know, let's make an organization that's all about placing bombs and extortion, 'cause that market hardly has enough supply to meet the demand." And then a bunch of people would basically go, "yay, I always wanted to be an evil minion! Where do I sign up?"

    In reality what these studies show has nothing to do with choosing to wear tights or twirl a moustache and cackle manically. They just show that most people, if given power, or even if role-playing a position of power, find it increasingly easy to rationalize bad behaviour. They're not choosing to be evil, they just rationalize being a complete dick as _good_ or at least excusable.

    And not just business decisions. That's the fun part. Sure, you can rationalize evil business decisions via what I call an "argument from capitalism": being evil is good if it makes some investor money. But it extends beyond that.

    E.g., in a study people role-playing some executive-level boss with a posh office would find a $100 bill. And most would not just pocket it and forget about it, but actually lie if someone came asking about it. Whereas those role-playing the peons would be less likely to.

    Or like in that baker's statistic that folks on the executive level were more likely to take a sandwich without paying for it, than the peons on the cubicle floor.

    The illusion that now you're above those pesky peons and their judgments extends not just deciding if to cut costs by dumping radioactive waste in the Mediterranean (actually happened, btw), but even to that kind of stuff. It's not even about fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders or anything, but basically about being a dick. Those in positions of power can rationalize it better and for being more of a dick.

    It applies to heroes vs villains only in as much a case can be made that if they suddenly found Plato's ring and could be untraceable whenever they want, most people wouldn't think "yay, now I can do some serious good with this power", but rather "yay, let's steal some money from the bank" or even "yay, now I can take revenge on the boss/ex-gf/whatever".

    Granted, as TFA points out, not all people. Some actually go in overdrive with applying higher standards to themselves when given power or an illusion of power. So I guess you'd get some heroes too. Most just start rationalizing more of what they want and now can take and be de facto villains.

    But the fun part is that neither would actually consider themselves villains. Someone could be just in the process of leaving with a sack of cash from the bank and just think it's the due that society always owed them, or that they're actually doing a good thing because they might give a tiny portion of that to charity, or really whatever rationalization.

  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:10AM (#33869238)

    I mean, it still sucks less than every other form of governance yet devised, but it has no magical anti-corruption powers

    Actually, the idea is to balance corruption against corruption, ambition against ambition, in such a way that nobody can get away with anything too terribly terrible.

    The problem with the idea is that partisan politics short-circuits this theory; political parties operate as (almost) monolithic entities and the "cooperative" aspects of them make it so that attempts at balance get co-opted and circumvented.

    On the hierarchy of theoretical governments, it's often been stated that the best would be that of the truly enlightened despot, a single ruler and his lieutenants beneath who all act for the greater good of (hopefully) as many of the people as they can manage. The problem here is that assuring such a despot is impossible.

    The second-best would be that of the enlightened communism, wherein all put forth an honest and earnest effort to do what they can, even if the job they are assigned is not something they have a passion for; often proponents of this theory suggest that if there is a job nobody really wants, the populace should draw lots and take turns doing it. Unfortunately, the problem here is that you get the two lazy-classes - the leeches and the bureaucrats - who tip the system into unworkability. This is why religious communism (monastic orders mostly) works rather well, while all attempts to expand it into the larger population always fail - the religious orders are freely and happily able to kick those who don't behave as they should out of the commune!

    Since those two are fundamentally unworkable on a large or sustained scale, forms of "democracy" are about all we have left. Alas, over time they too are becoming co-opted and short-circuited by those who want to make a "ruling class" of themselves.

    So it's not surprising that most people, given power, would inevitably become a "villain" on some score. Everyone has something they think needs fixing and that they would gladly be an "enlightened despot" to fix. After all, even General Zod [] is for universal healthcare access.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:21AM (#33869394)

    If you read a lot of comics, you will see that many super villains started out life as "guys having bad days" (The new back story for the Jocker, for example. Or Mr. Freeze). Somebody who represents authority then comes along (in these cases, Batman) and makes things worse.

    Suppose you had super strength and you accidentally hurt somebody. All it would take would be for some woman in the crowd to scream and some twitchy cop to come running and to see you standing over somebody covered in blood, and to get the wrong idea. A gun is draw, maybe shots are fired. Next thing you know your on the run and everybody thinks your a criminal.

    Maybe you turn yourself in, maybe you get jumped by a swat team and give up without a fight. The newspapers are already against you. The conservative media is already saying that you're a threat that needs to be controlled, and even the liberal media is saying that you're dangerous because you may accidentally injure somebody.

    You're an outcast, angry and alone, and the only people who want to know you will probably be the military who want to turn you into a weapon. Do you honestly think that you would become a super hero after that?

    The typical human reaction is to run away, or to fight back. Either way you'd be regarded as a super villain without having to blow up a single train or to poison a single troupe of Boy scouts (If you know pick up this reference you're either a super nerd, or are showing your age).

  • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:22AM (#33869426)
    Hancock went to the middle of cities and stopped car chases.

    I think what GP has in mind is more of a Dr Manhattan "War is obsolete, have free energy, I sure hope there's no super-smart guy who can make this into a bomb" kind of change the world.

    Consider that the only outcome at the end of both the film and the original graphic novel is indeed "world peace." Either under the guise of mutual self interest in stopping Dr Manhattan / alien race, or an end to world hunger and war brought about by free and abundant energy. Viedt's manipulation of Dr Manhattan, and his underhanded scheme was moot. Hence Dr Manhattan's last line to Viedt in the graphic novel.

    In other words, to change the world you need to think big. Hancock failed at that.
  • by 93,000 ( 150453 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:28AM (#33869534)

    I wouldn't spend my efforts trying to destroy mankind, but I'd probably rob a bank every now and then.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:45AM (#33869780) Journal

    >>>"Well, I could attack and kill evil people in far off lands. Heroine dealers, warlords, terrorists, etc."

    I wouldn't do any of that. Everybody has a right to live, even assholes. Besides heroine isn't any worse than the beer people use to kill themselves every weekend. And "warlord" is just a derogatory term for "king" or "politician" - we've had presidents that acted like warlords. The only real evil person in your list is the terrorist, but even that could be argued to be a "freedom fighter" in the manner of our George Washington when he fought against UK Tyranny.

    What I'd probably do is act to protect people from their own government (police) which kill & beat innocent citizens every single day via their unconstitutional raids & just general ineptitude.

  • by zegota ( 1105649 ) <rpgfanatic AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:45AM (#33869782)
    You had a slight typo there. I think you meant "the people who game the system by not buying in, and then go to the Emergency Room because they didn't have any preventative care, and/or declaring bankruptcy when something terrible happens and leaving their debt on the rest of society." Easy mistake.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:48AM (#33869824) Homepage

    How about just being selfish and pretty amoral? I bet a lot of folks could do that. It's not plotting-to-take-over-the-world villainry, but it's not good either.

    That would be most people. So you're one superman, there's 7 billion people who have emergencies. Maybe I'd fly down to the Mexican Gulf to plug that oil leak but I wouldn't kill myself trying to save everybody. Not that I'd have to do crime of any type, I figure BP would pay me enough for that one job to make me set for life. I'd just be no worse than the other billionaires out there.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:13AM (#33870212) Journal

    >>>you could have a socialised system like we do

    You mean an anti-choice Monopoly. Like our sucky mail system, or lousy Amtrak service, or crumbling bridges, or shitty schools. No. Thanks. I'd rather that I use my OWN money rather than be as a child dependent on politicians/bureaucrats ("please help me sir... please have mercy"). Frak that.

    I want to keep my money in MY control, so I can spend my cash in whichever hospital I feel like, plus a safety net (welfare) to help those without money. Just the same way I can choose whether to buy Microsoft or Apple or Amiga or Linux OS. Or Dodge or GM or Ford or Honda or Toyota. Or none at all.

    I'm 99.9% pro-choice. Power to the citizen, not the bureaucrat/master.

  • Magneto (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:24AM (#33870394)

    First off, I need to stress that I'm really not into American comic books. I knew nearly nothing about the Xmen before the movies came out. What I do know today is really only from watching the movies.

    Once the background for Magneto was shown, I couldn't think of him as a villian. The line between a hero and villan isn't black and white, but indistinct shades of grey.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:24AM (#33870412) Homepage

    By far the most interesting supervillains are those who think of themselves as heroes. Lex Luthor is trying to save Earth from alien dependence/domination. Doctor Doom is the benevolent dictator of Latveria, protecting the poor country from western oppression.

  • selfish vs. self (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DRAGONWEEZEL ( 125809 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:38AM (#33870664) Homepage

    Here's my thing. How much of myself am I supposed to give if I am

    1. the only super hero ever.
    2. a member of a small super hero population
    3. a member of a large super hero population.

    What I mean is, even if you are a super hero, are we to allways give 100% and not take care of ourselves?

    I want to do what I can to help mankind, but I just don't know how I can spend more than a few hrs a day doing it (with occasional long days for meteors & allien invasion), especially when I still have to work a regular job to pay my bills.

    I'm not taking endorsements, I don't think it's ethical. I'd like to have other hobbies and a vacation on occasion.

  • You trolls are just so cute!

  • by Cro Magnon ( 467622 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:41AM (#33870744) Homepage Journal

    One of my favorites is Magneto. A whole bunch of mutants think he's a hero. Heck, if I were a super-powered mutant, I'd probably think he was a hero.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @12:26PM (#33871550)

    In other words, to change the world you need to think big. Hancock failed at that.

    Which made him human, like us. It is easy to say "think big" until you are overburdened with all the people who want cats rescued from trees, and want you to save them from the small stuff. ...

    Kind of like being an IT support guy. You start with grand visions of documenting the entire network, getting all software installed properly and up to date and so on. You end up bitter, cynical and overworked from answering too many calls from people who accidentally pressed the Num Lock key, while your bosses have no idea what needs to be done so they assume you have nothing to do.

  • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @01:54PM (#33873368) Homepage

    And if you go to Romania, you find people who still think that Vlad Tepes gets a bum rap. He was the king who staved off the Arab invasions. Though his methods have been were quite draconian (ba dum ting) and seldom lauded by anyone else.

    You find similar kernels of truth throughout many types of, what seem like, extreme rhetoric. I think the problem with perspective comes in that its a bit like climbing a mountain top. Each piece of evidence, each argument is built upon others. When viewed from the outside of their own context, its easy to think people had to be crazy to be Nazis, or Al Queda, but, from some perspectives, even the people we hold up as heros would be in the same crazy boat. However, each foot you go up one peak, brings you that much further from being able to see the view from atop another.

    If you view the US as violent, hypocritical (torture anyone?), meddling in your people's affairs, bent on slowly destroying your way of life, and too big and powerful to take on through direct confrontation, then terrorist actions start to become.... entirely rational. How else do you fight such an enemy? I have said many times that I would think quite dimly of the person who feels otherwise should the day come that Chinese boots march on our soil.

    I have heard from people here "We went over to help them". Its nice to have a good intention in your heart but, how can you expect "them" to see it that way? If Chinese soldiers rolled onto our beaches and began forming a new government here, would you accept their "help"? Would you say to your brothers, sisters, parents, and friends "Oh look, they came to help us! Lets welcome our new friends with open arms!"?

    More and more I have come to the opinion that such an open attitude is a better one than the one which I have often espoused. However, that doesn't mean that I expect people, as a rule, to adopt it.

    It is quite rare that one mans evil supervillian isn't somebodies hero.


  • by daem0n1x ( 748565 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @02:04PM (#33873522)
    If public services don't work in the USA, maybe it's time to fix your country first. Something's wrong with it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @02:09PM (#33873622)

    Miracleman/Marvelman by Alan Moore
    Supreme Power by JMS
    Black Summer by Warren Ellis

    I suppose there's a reason why they refer to Superman as a "boy scout". Anything less will become...messy.

  • by Requiem18th ( 742389 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @03:03PM (#33874502)

    I call it the CEO effect.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @04:53PM (#33887542)

    I don't remember the 3rd movie well enough to remember the scene about an allegedly innocent person being killed (the 3rd movie was a bit of a disappointment), but Magneto's philosophy seems to be that sometimes innocent but useful people need to be sacrificed for the "greater good". This is what happened with Rogue; she wasn't kidnapped and "tortured" for Magneto to get his jollies, she was used because her unique abilities allowed her to duplicate his powers, and then operate the machine that caused all the politicians to become mutants. Of course, Magneto could have just done this himself, but the way the machine worked, it would kill whoever operated it to that degree, so he reasoned it'd be better to sacrifice her for the cause, so he could stay alive to lead his mutant team. Finally, I don't recall her being "tortured" as such; operating the machine was very painful, but it wasn't intentional, just a side-effect of the machine.

    Magneto saw himself like a General who sometimes has to order soldiers into battles that will inevitably result in their deaths, but it's supposedly all for the greater good.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.