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This is going to be a test run of , social science edition. This is in accordance with http://meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/2348/8914.

Okay, so a meteor is about to hit the earth, all our efforts to stop it failed, but a super-man like character saves the day by punching it away*. He then returns to Earth, to find a bunch of reporters trying to interview him.

How would individuals and society react.

We will say that he is basically a human, the only exception being his powers. Also, his social skills are that of the average human.

Now here is the hard part. Citing relevant scientific literature that relates to human behavior (check psychology and sociology), extrapolate your answer based off scientific research.

Notes about this type of question:
Obviously, there are no psychological on actual superheros, but there isn't any physics research on actual Type II civilizations influencing accretion rates. The top answer extrapolated based on current knowledge how it could be done. An answer for this would extrapolate research on human behavior as to they would react to this scenario.


*Not necessarily hard-science with respect to physics. (It could be, but we aren't dealing with that for now.)

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    $\begingroup$ A typical "shinning star" is roughly 100m in diameter any bigger press the panic button! Yes I think media will laud his/her effort companies sharing advertising revenue, politicians arguing his birthright, doctors turn astrobiologists, astronomers turning off TV/radio, scientist take turns to do testing, his fans turn up, to the hero/heroine what a turn of events this person will be overwhelm by awesomeness and starts turning around. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jul 27 '15 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ This seems sort of an "idea-generation" question to me. The Help center says not to ask questions of the form "What if ______ happened?” I realize that your question is not quite so simple: you're specifically asking for an answer backed by scientific research. However, the parameters of your question still seem quite broad to me, and capable of encompassing many different answers. $\endgroup$ – sumelic Jul 27 '15 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ On a pedantic point, "super strength" is not a very relistic super power. Supposing you could generate the type of strength necessary to punch away a meteor. If you used all of that strength, you'd apply the equivalent of several nuclear explosions to the meteor, shattering it into several large pieces. Try to hit less hard, and your arm will punch an arm-sized hole in the meteor. Again, pedantic point. I understand the question is another. $\endgroup$ – Neil Jul 27 '15 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ I think historical precedent of how societies react to extremely powerful individuals is going to be far more appropriate than any psychological studies/theories that will, inevitably, deal with individual responses to a very different stimulus. $\endgroup$ – Avon Jul 27 '15 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ TO THOSE WRITING ANSWERS: This question is requesting hard science. In the case of social sciences this would include reference to studies/journals that have studied human behavior. From what is available you would then have to extrapolate out to super humans. The history comparisons could be useful in that regard. $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 19:20
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History and mythology are full of characters who were credited with having superpowers. It is quite likely that the acclaim he gets will go to his head and he will encourage people to worship him as a god. In any case they would see him as a hero. Women would flock to him.

People who were seen as superheroes in their day or even today.

Alexander the Great’s army was well, great. It consisted of more than 48,000 soldiers and at times grew to over 90,000 soldiers.

Buddha There are 376 million followers worldwide. Buddhists seek to reach a state of nirvana, following the path of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who went on a quest for Enlightenment around the sixth century BC.

There are of course many more.

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    $\begingroup$ That's anecdotal, not hard science. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jul 27 '15 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez I think examples from history are the hardest science you are going to get. How did people respond to reports of a man from Nazareth that could perform miracles? Are we in any doubt that some worshiped him and others tried to kill him? It may be anecdotal whether he existed or did those things but people's responses to those anecdotes are clear to see - as hard as the hardest science. $\endgroup$ – Avon Jul 27 '15 at 12:20
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It depends.

I think the scenario you're describing, in which one person instantly and single-handedly saves the world from an obvious disaster, is far enough beyond the pale that a hard-science answer based on real research isn't very possible. Our biggest Obvious Looming Disasters-- the Cold War, Nazi Germany-- were mitigated by lots of regular* people working together. Obvious is key here, because if most people don't recognize the threat, then the person who claims to mitigate it isn't likely to receive much credit. And while there have been people with abilities that could be considered superhuman, they're usually treated as forgettable curiosities (see "idiot savants").

However, the reaction of the general public to a superhuman has been tackled before in fiction, so here are some possible public attitudes toward a superhuman and an example of each. All of these assume that your superhuman is a decent person overall and generally tries to do the right thing; if not, public perception could vary dramatically.

  • Religious devotion: Batman v Superman (2016). A major theme in BvS is that Superman is treated like a god. The movie even shows that god-status isn't ubiquitous, and some would likely see your superhuman as a false idol.

  • Hostility: Batman v Superman. A second major theme in BvS is Batman's own treatment of Superman. He ignores the problem of whether Superman is a real or false idol, and takes a Pascal's Wager approach to the problem; the consequences of Superman turning hostile are so dire that it needs to be treated as an "absolute certainty." (The flaws in his logic are addressed in this think piece, but that doesn't make it an unrealistic reaction.)

  • Talisman/cultural icon: The Dark Knight (2008). In one scene, a would-be criminal sees the Batsymbol in the sky and decides not to go through with a drug deal, purely out of the threat of retaliation. (Batman is not, strictly speaking, a superhuman, but he's treated as such by the superstitious and cowardly lot).

  • Moneymaker: Spider-Man franchise. Spider-Man's most public critic, J. Jonah Jameson, treats the web-slinger not as a real threat but as a means to sell newspapers. By printing attention-grabbing headlines about this otherwise well-liked "menace," his sales increase dramatically. (This can be seen in the real world as well, by the prevalence of tabloid magazines that publish scandalous made-up drivel about famous people.)

  • Dependence: The Powerpuff Girls. In the episode Too Pooped to Puff, the townsfolk become utterly dependent on the girls to save them; so much so, in fact, that they lose all basic motivation and treat devastating monsters as funny spectacles. While this is obviously an extreme example played for laughs, the presence of your superhuman might make world crises seem less scary to a lot of people.

*Skilled, yes; superhuman, no.

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  • $\begingroup$ About tabloids and "scandalous made-up drivel". They can make even more money if it happens to be scandalous and true. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson May 17 '18 at 19:44
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I would imagine this could scenario play out in many different ways especially considering other matters that would be relevant to the outcome. We would need to have an idea of:

  • Do people know of the asteroid ahead of time, and what evidence do they have to know it is a real threat? If the prior evidence of the asteroid is unreliable (ex. The rumors of the world ending in the year 2000, 2012 Mayan apocalypse), many people won't be likely to believe it. If it is visible with the naked eye from the surface of earth, people will probably be scared in advance (considering people like to believe what they can see) which is good for the credibility of our hero.
  • Who sees or hears about our hero saving the planet? If everyone in the United States could see the hero saving the world, there will obviously be more people believing in the hero story who live in the U.S. (Or countries who have good relations with the U.S.) because logically, people tend to trust those they knows as allies more than those who they know as enemies. Perspective can really change the way people react.
  • Who is our hero after saving the planet? Do they keep their identity secret? Do they start saving people or doing other things such as this regularly? If people can meet the hero in person and know the hero's identity, people are much more likely to calm down and start to believe this hero is real and/or the good guy. If the hero vanishes after the first event, the event will likely become a story to be told throughout the years as a mystery (Ex. Building of pyramids, Jesus' existence, etc.)

In any scenario, you will have people who will take it to one extreme or the other. Some people will fully believe the hero is real, and they will praise him and the event (Think of those worshipped along the lines of figures like Jesus. [Please don't kill me for that. I'm trying to be subjective for the sake of answering the question.]). Some will believe it to be a conspiracy and obsess over it (Ex. Area 51, Alien abductions, government cover ups, the work of an underground group). Some will be terrified and might even try to hunt the hero down to get rid of what they see as a threat because the hero is different and "new". Some will be more laid back about the controversy (Typically not wanting to get involved with those who are obsessive). These people might be less intense versions of the other three examples or they might just be those who don't care about the event, don't believe in the initial asteroid, aren't sure what to think, etc.

TL,DR People will be divided no matter the circumstances. The circumstances are just there to determine who will believe and how others will respond to that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note: I know my answer does not qualify as the "Hard Science" you seem to refer to. Imo there is no way to answer this question with hard science because even that would have to be strictly theories. I tried to incorporate real life examples into my answer to act as evidence to the theories I gave, but like I said before, any answer stated here is going to just be a theory. $\endgroup$ – Rain Jul 27 '15 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Interesting answer, though not hard science. $\endgroup$ – Josiah Jul 27 '15 at 14:15
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Nota Bene: You've tagged the question as "hard science", but since I can't be bothered spending a few hours looking up citations for relevant books and articles, I decided not to bother answering. Then I noticed that the other answers are ignoring the hard-science tag, so I figured might as well throw my hat in. If you object, drop me a comment and I'll delete this.


Heroes are only heroes once they are dead. When they're alive, they are either a tool, a threat, or a tyrant.

To put it another way, the people in power want to stay in power. They cannot allow what is effectively a walking talking nuke to wander around freely. They will therefore start by trying to control the superhero to (reinforce their own power) and if that doesn't work, will try to destroy them to prevent their enemies from controlling them.

The superhero has 3 options: Either they allow themselves to be used (tool), or they seize power for themselves (tyrant), or they reject the whole power dynamic and strike out on their own, in which case they will quickly be branded a supervillain by just about everyone (threat).

One of the most important tools that any government uses, is propaganda. Nowadays this gets confused a bit, what with "freedom of the press" and all, but smear campaigns are still widely used and highly effective. So while initial reactions to the superhero are likely to be either "yay they so cool" or "oh noes the world is ending" (with a tiny minority of "consider the implications"), within a few months this will have been reshuffled so that they can be neatly pigeonholed into one of the three T's.

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    $\begingroup$ Ignorance is one thing but pointing out you are ignoring a rule you clearly understand is a bit on the nose... $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 19:24
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I think you would get a more extreme version than you get now a days with some muscians, actors and public figures. There are many famous people who are elevated almost to the status of superhuman, even in the movies they star in. A lot of people really buy into this and worship some of these stars.

Your superhero would no doubt have a personality, and when he does the interview and is witnessed by everyone around the world via the media he will come across in a certain way. People will have different interpretations of him/her, some will love, some will hate. Everyone will be talking be all over the internet, tv, newspapers, magazines and this superhero will just become another celebrity.

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't a hard science answer. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jul 27 '15 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez the hard-science tag should not be on this sociological question. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 17 '18 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn As the person asking the question it is his choice, not any of ours. Asking for scientific literature to back up a point is just as valid as asking for equations to back up an answer on how a solar system would work. $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @James every answer got the "This question asks for hard science. ... Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed" ding. That should tell the OP something. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 17 '18 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn That is a flag that would come to my mind as well, but having read the OP and answers it is pretty clear what the expectation is and the answers have not met that standard. That is not, in this case the fault of the OP, and for the record I added the post notices. $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 21:14

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