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The science behind being a hero

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Are you a hero or a bystander? You might think you know the answer, but what you may not know is there is a little bit of science involved in gauging how you would react in a critical situation.

Let's say a fight breaks out right in front of you or a plane flies into a building and bursts into flames. No one knows when an emergency is going to happen right in front of them. If you did would you know what to do? Are you prepared mentally and physically to be a hero? Or would you remain a bystander? Most people think they know the answer and claim to be a hero. That was the same answer we kept getting over and over when we went to the streets to ask. But experts say predicting any person's reaction in a dire situation, even your own, isn't as simple as you may think.

"I think belief is that they are more likely to help than they actually are it's a completely new situation for people, which is part of what makes it so hard to predict what they're going to do, said Arthur Markman, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas.

Markman has done extensive research on how people react in emergency situations.

"If you're going to jump into a situation, you're most likely to do it if you've got some amount of training," he said.

Markman says those with military or any types of emergency services training are more likely to become a hero.

"If an event erupts very quickly, you're still trying figure out what's going on," said Markman.

Robin Dehaven credits military training for an act of heroism that he's received more than 20 recognitions for. On February 18, 2010 when a small plane crashed into the IRS Building in north Austin, then 28-year old Dehaven went into action, pulling up to the building, taking a ladder out of his truck, breaking a window, and helping six people trapped on the second floor get down to safety.

"At the time I was just thinking about the people up there," Dehaven said.

It's important to note that not everyone who becomes a hero has military or emergency services training. The Wall Street Journal has released a short quiz to gauge your hero potential. You can find the quiz on our MYFOXAUSTIN Facebook page or click here.

Nick Soret and a friend were at the Roppolo's Pizza trailer, at 4th Street and Colorado, in September after a night out on the town, when out of nowhere the unexpected happened.

"He just got worse and worse, and then he assaulted me and he assaulted my friend," said Soret.

Soret watches surveillance video showing the suspect, who has now been arrested, punching him and his friend. Soret believes the act was a hate crime against the two for being gay. When he watches the video, Soret sees that despite several people watching what was happening, not one person helped to stop it.

"No one would step in. Nobody would say anything. The more people who are around in a situation; the less likely it is that anyone is going to get involved," Soret said.

We showed the same video to Dr. Markman who wasn't surprised that any of the bystanders didn't intervene. He bases his conclusion on years of research.

"Everyone figures someone else is going to do something and in the end nobody feels particularly responsible for not acting," said Markman.

Add to that, Markman says the circumstances of each incident play a major factor in how those around it will react.

"It happened very late at night. The reaction of the individual was very violent. You don't know whether he's got other weapons," Markman said.

Markman says while there is tons of research and statistics available, there's not an exact science to determine how individuals will react. A person, who might be a hero on one day, may not the next.

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