A classic element of the Superman stories is the Fortress of Solitude, a giant, secret palace in the Arctic where he can get away from the stresses of life and fart in his spandex without killing any bystanders.
"Yes, this oughta be enough room for my porn collection."
Everyone needs to get away from people every once in a while, but shouldn't Superman be, you know, above that sort of thing? Protecting others is his entire job, and assuming that he never needs to sleep or rest, what possible benefit could he get out of isolation? The answer, says science, is that it makes him a better person. Or alien, whatever.
A study from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago found that being lonely makes people more empathetic. Some of the volunteers were asked to write about family events like Thanksgiving or Christmas, and some weren't, and then they all had to answer some questions. The answers showed that those who were thinking about friends and family were more likely to dehumanize other people they didn't know.
Admittedly, Thanksgiving may not have been the best thing to put them in a peaceful frame of mind.
In another part of the experiment, some of the volunteers were asked to bring a friend, while others were alone, and then they were all asked what they thought about torturing suspected terrorists. The lone ones were less likely to endorse torture, while the ones who brought their friends were all about "waterboarding those motherfuckers in the dick."
The explanation for this is that being with friends or family satisfies our need for social connection, which in turns means you won't give that much of a shit about strangers. In other words, isolating himself in his fortress in the middle of nowhere helps Superman care about those puny little humans he saves every day. But that's not the only benefit he gets from being alone: Solitude also improves your memory. Seriously.
"Two or three more nights at home and maybe I'll remember where I put my keys."
In a study at Harvard University, volunteers were paired off and shown random images. Some groups were told they'd be working on the same task on their individual computers, while others were told they'd be working alone. A week later, the ones who thought they were working alone were a lot more likely to remember the images.
The obvious explanation here is that the people working in pairs got lazy and assumed that the other guy would cover for them, but researchers think there's something else going on here: Apparently, just the act of being with other people drains our attention and makes it harder to keep track of stuff. You can see how that could be a problem for Superman.
"Why is everyone looking at ... OH SHIT."
We told you a while back that having a wide face, high cheekbones and a big fat chin makes you more likely to be a jerk to everyone around you. According to that, if Superman and his massive jaw were real, he would be the biggest dick that existed.
Which would be a drastic change from the comics.
However, according to one study, there's a very specific circumstance when wide-faced people are more likely than others to do good: if they're working on a team. Considering that Superman has been a member of some superteam or another since 1940, this might very well be the reason why he hasn't fried all of us with his heat ray vision by now.
A study published in the journal Psychological Science asked student volunteers, the fuel of all scientific advancement, to play a simple game where they could choose between helping themselves while screwing over the group they were part of or giving up money for the good of all. Half of the volunteers were told that their results would be compared to other students from the same school. The other half were told that they were in competition with a rival school.
Surprisingly, the wider-faced students, usually aggressive and the first to chug, were dicks when they thought their individual awesomeness was on the line against their fellow students, but completely not dicks as soon as they were told that a rival school would be competing with their school. In fact, they sacrificed more money than the average-faced students in their group. The same impulse that made them dickish and competitive assholes turned them into loyal team players.
Incidentally, the day after the study, the rival school was covered in dong graffiti.
The implication for Superman is that he didn't just inspire all the other superheroes, but that being part of the superheroic community actually makes him less of a jerk (which makes sense when you consider how much of a dangerous psycho he was before 1940). So basically, as long as we keep emphasizing to Superman that he's part of team Super Friends, he'll continue using his powerful aggression, indicated by his face, to help us. Or at least to beat the Legion of Doom next fall at homecoming.
For more ways to turn yourself into a superhero, check out 5 Superpowers Science Will Give Us in Our Lifetime and 5 Ways To Hack Your Brain Into Awesomeness.