Monday, July 12, 2010

San Diego Comic Convention 2010

If you're going to be at the San Diego Comic Convention on Saturday, July 24, stop by for this panel:

10:30-11:30 am Comics Arts Conference Session #9: Batman and the Empty Nest Syndrome — Does Batman become a different type of person when he has a sidekick? Join panelists Denny O’Neil (Batman writer and editor), Michael Uslan (Executive Producer, Batman Films), psychologists Travis Langley (Henderson State University) and Robin Rosenberg (The Psychology of Superheroes), Tommy Cash (The Workday Comic), and neuroscientist E. Paul Zehr (Becoming Batman) as they discuss who Batman is when he works alone versus who he becomes when he works with Bat-family members. Room 26AB

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wonder Woman as Émigré

I read last week that DC Comics will be reimagining (sort of) Wonder Woman's origin story (and costume). For those of you unfamiliar with Wonder Woman's (Diana's) origin--the origin before this new one--here are the aspects of her story that germane to the rest of this blog post:

  • Wonder Woman is an Amazon--a nation of strong women (and only women)--who live sequestered on Paradise Island; on this island there is food aplenty, no war, and the women living there are immortal while on the island. Although Diana knew that men exist, she had never met one.
  • Diana wanted to leave Paradise Island in order to accompany to the United States a wounded solder whose plane crashed off Paradise Island (he couldn't stay on the island because it is for women only, and he wasn't able to return on his own. He was the first man Diana had ever seen.) Diana's mother, the Amazon's Queen, forbade Diana to leave Paradise Island.
  • The Queen decides to hold a tournament to determine who is the strongest, most able Amazon; the winner will take the soldier to the United States.
  • Diana disobeys her mother and enters the tournament, wearing a mask to disguise her identity; she wins the tournament, knowing that as the winner she must be prepared to leave Paradise Island forever.

My point here is that Diana is very motivated to leave, despite her apparently idyllic existence on Paradise Island. (For those interested in finding out more about Wonder Woman's history, I recommend that you click here and here.)

The new reimaging will change all that, which could be interesting because part of Wonder Woman's personality is reflected in her desire to emigrate. The classic origin story of Wonder Woman is the tale of a young woman desperate to emigrate to a new land--filled with men and different ways and customs. In fact, she so much wants to emigrate that she's prepared both to leave behind forever everyone she's love as well as to lose the Amazonian advantages of perfect health and immortality. Why might someone risk so much to emigrate?

Some people emigrate because their life in their native land is harsh: war, famine, oppression, poverty, or discrimination-with little possibility of significant improvement if they remain. In such cases, the specifics of the situation motivate people to leave who might otherwise remain in their native country in better circumstances. That's certainly not the case with the Princess.

The Princess's desire to move to America reflects constellations of personality traits--personality dimensions--that are typical of many people in our world who emigrate (Olson, 2007):

  • Extraversion: composed of enthusiasm, adventurousness, optimism, and a tendency to seek our excitement, thrills, and risk;
  • Openness to experience: composed of curiosity and a preference for variety and novelty.

People high in these personality dimensions are more likely to get bored in a culture that is closed and monotonous--like that of an island culture, particularly one in which there is not a lot of back and forth with other villages and other people (like Paradise Island). People who score high in extraversion are more likely to emigrate than people who score low on these dimensions (Chen et al., 1999). In contrast, people low on both of these dimensions will be more content--or at least more willing--to stay home, both literally in their home as well as culturally at home, not venturing into cultures too different than their own.

It's easy to imagine someone like Diana, someone who's bored with the monotony of village life--especially life in a village life in which food is plenty, health is guaranteed, and most tasks are easy for her. She must have been itching to leave. (And it's likely that Amazons who were similarly high in extraversion and openness to experience left Paradise Island long ago; the women left on the island are those who aren't likely to have much wanderlust (Olson, 2007).

In fact, research bears out this speculation about Diana's wanderlust and that of past Amazons. Italian psychologists Camperio Ciani and colleagues (2007) compared the personality traits among residents of three small island Italian villages with villagers from three mainland areas facing the islands. Each of the small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea has a history of isolation; people do not frequently move between islands, or from the mainland to an island. (Researchers estimated that in every generation, around 30% islanders would have to leave because given the space limitations of each island, only a fixed number of residents could be sustained.) In fact, until recently, the islands were relatively isolated from the mainland.

As part of the study, the villagers completed questionnaires and also were interviewed. Consistent with the personality traits of people who emigrate, all three sets of islanders (each of whose grandparents were also islanders) were less extraverted and less open to new experiences than were the mainlanders. That is, people who were temperamentally suited to island life left so that those who remained did not have the personality traits characteristic of wanderlust. Those who were most willing to emigrate to other parts of Italy did so. And people born on the islands but then emigrated to the mainland had higher levels of extraversion and openness to experience than did people born on the islands but who remained. These personality dimensions have a genetic component (Angleitner & Ostendorf, 2000), and so the children of those who remain on the island are in turn more likely to feel comfortable with life on an isolated island. As the researchers note:

"In effect, extraverted individuals like novelty-seekers (Benjamin et al., 1996) are expected to be more emigration-prone, since they have a more outgoing attitude and are more curious about new environments; thus, their alleles fade away, since they leave no descendants on the island. Islanders also become less open to experience, due to the fact that life on small islands is more repetitive than on the mainland, and individuals with high levels of openness find less cultural, social or intellectual stimulation in such confined spaces. All these factors may induce extraverted and open individuals to leave the island." (p. 14).

Other studies found similar results. One study found that Finnish people high in extraversion were more likely to move from their native rural area to a more urban area--and were more likely to move longer distances--than their low extraversion counterparts. And in the United States, people high in extraversion and openness were more likely to move within a given period of time than were people lower in these personality dimensions (Jokela, 2008; Jokela et al., 2009).

Changing the emigration aspect of Wonder Women's origin changes who she is; I guess that's part of the plan.

Copyright 2010 by Robin S. Rosenberg. All rights reserved.
Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist. Her website is Click here to take her brief What is a Superhero? Survey.


Angleitner, A., & Ostendorf, F. (2000, July). The FFM: A comparison of German speaking countries (Austria, former East and West Germany, and Switzerland). In J. Allik (Chair), Personality and culture: The five-factor theory perspective. Symposium conducted at the 27th International Congress of Psychology, Stockholm, Sweden.

Chen, C., Burton, M., Greenberger, E., & Dmitrieva, J. (1999). Population migration and the variation of dopamine D4 receptor (D4DR) allele frequencies around the globe. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 20, 309-324.

Ciani, A. S. C., Capiluppi, C., Veronese, A., & Sartori, G. (2007). The adaptive value of personality differences revealed by small island population dynamics. European Journal of Personality, 21(1), 3-22.

Olson, K. R. (2007). Why do geographic differences exist in the worldwide distribution of extraversion and openness to experience? The history of human emigration as an explanation. Individual Differences Research, 5(4), 275-288.