5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

Apparently, there are parts of Superman's character that may seem random or even stupid to you, but offer surprising benefits, according to science.
5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

Being the first one of the whole lot, Superman is the template to every superhero that exists ... meaning that he's also the one to blame for ridiculous tropes like wearing the underpants on the outside or having an insultingly transparent secret identity. However, there are parts of Superman's character that may seem random or even stupid to you, but offer surprising benefits, according to science. So if you aspire to superheroism, pay attention ...

A Tragic Past, a Small Town Origin and Living in the Big City Increase Your Chances of Heroism


Between the movies, the shows and the comics, you've probably seen Superman's origin a dozen times: He was born on the doomed planet Krypton, he was raised in the Midwestern town of Smallville and he settled in the thriving city of Metropolis. That sounds like something Superman's creators probably banged out in 15 minutes so they could get to the part where he starts punching bald people.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science
DC Comics

Their initial proposal that "He just fucking hates balds" didn't fly.

But, whether it happened by careful consideration or sheer coincidence, it turns out that every part of Superman's origin story is, according to experts, like an ingredient in a recipe to create a hero.

For starters, just being raised in a small town makes it far more likely that you'll risk your neck for someone else -- 80 percent of all winners of the Carnegie Medal, a prize they've been giving to real-life heroes for over 100 years, come from small towns. That's 80 percent of 9,558 people, which adds up to a shitload of heroic hicks.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

We're assuming that most of the feats involved some variation of "saving a baby from a cow stampede."

But wait, don't the bulk of Superman's heroics happen in Metropolis? Yeah, and this part is grounded in reality, too: Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, more recently funded the Heroic Imagination Project, which studies the reasons why people risk themselves for others. According to him, people living in cities are 63 percent more likely to carry out heroic acts. The scientific explanation for this is that, as Zimbardo himself eloquently put it, "No shit happens in the suburbs."

And finally, Zimbardo's research, which was based on extensive surveys, also shows that those who have survived a disaster or some kind of tragic event are three times more likely to become heroes, which also explains why Batman, Spider-Man and pretty much every other major superhero is an orphan.


So there you go. If you want your son to grow up to be a real-life Superman, now you have a formula for it: Simply raise him in a small town, move to the city and kill yourself.

Wearing Tights Makes You Faster and More Resilient

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

Out of all the elements of the Superman mythology, the fact that he likes to wear blue and red tights might be the most pointless and arbitrary. It seems to us that there's some sort of logical leap between "deciding to use your superpowers to help people" and "dressing like a circus act," and yet all superheroes automatically do it. Also, do the tights have to be so, um, tight?

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

Pretty sure we could diagnose a kidney stone from here.

We've all got a big problem with the way the veins in Superman's dick form a vivid red road map in his tights, but what if we told you that wearing a tight-fitting costume really does make you more like Superman?

Athletic types have claimed for years that there are all sorts of benefits of compression clothing (i.e., tights). Science types, presumably unaccustomed to gyms and throwing motions, have done studies to confirm their lunkish suspicions and proved that clothing that leaves little to the imagination (of genitalia) makes you faster. In a German study, researchers found that compression stockings (tight-fitting knee-high tights) improved stamina by 4 percent and top speed by 2 percent.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

They also add a +3 to your Reflex save.

Scientists suggest that this happens because the compression results in increased blood flow, which carries more oxygen to the muscles (which is good because oxygen is what makes you go). These results were basically repeated in another study with cyclists, who wore lower compression garments under their shorts and improved their speed by 1.2 percent and their power output by 3.3 percent. Tight clothing also improves recovery time and limits muscle damage and inflammation.

These might seem like small gains for a man who can sneeze galaxies into oblivion, but when your job is to save people, every second counts -- imagine the guilt he'd feel if he failed to catch a baby who was falling from a building because he was wearing dungarees. If Superman saves one person because he's wearing tight clothes, then it was all worth it. Suddenly, visible dick veins seem like a pretty small price to pay, doesn't it?

Disappointed Parents

Doesn't it?

Standing Like Superman Makes You More Resistant to Pain

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

There's probably not a single incarnation of Superman where he doesn't stand with his hands on his hips at least once, like this:

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

Being socially awkward, Superman is never sure what to do with his hands.

It's like he's openly inviting villains to kick him in the nuts (they're even marked red, like a target). But, while most of us assume that Superman can only afford to stand like that because he's got that whole indestructible thing going for him, it turns out that assuming a dominant pose really does make you more tolerant to pain, even if you don't come from planet Krypton.

In a study, or a means of venting unresolved feelings related to bullying, scientists had volunteers stand in a dominant pose (with their chests out and expanding their bodies), a more submissive pose or a neutral "just kinda standing there" pose before slapping a blood pressure cuff on their arms and painfully pumping the shit out of it until the volunteers told them to stop. Even though all volunteers went through the exact same ordeal, those in dominant poses were able to take more pressure than those in the submissive or neutral ones. Just standing like Superman made them more resistant to pain.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

Hit him in the nuts with a football right now and he'll barely notice.

But that's not all: personality counts, too. The study also found that even assuming a submissive attitude makes you suck more at pain tolerance and generally turns you into a bigger sissy. Scientists tested this by pairing up volunteers with actors who talked loudly and sort of got in the faces of their partners for the whole experiment. When the actors pretended to be douchebags, the volunteers turned meek and had less resistance to pain, and also their strength decreased slightly -- when the roles were reversed, the opposite happened.

DC Comics

Douchebaggery is our kryptonite, apparently.

Amazingly, the scientists think that even emotional pain could be withstood more efficiently by assuming a Superman-like pose. So maybe this is just a psychological thing? Nope: They repeated the experiment with two more rounds of volunteers, only instead of assuming the different poses, this time they were only shown pictures of people in them. Neither group got the resist-pain bonus in this case, meaning that it's the physical act that matters.

So the next time you're curled up on the floor being kicked by a gang of bikers, keep in mind that you can't just reduce the pain by thinking about Superman -- you have to actually stand up like him.

Solitude Makes You More Empathetic and Gives You Super Memory

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

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.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

"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.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

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.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

"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.

DC Comics

"Why is everyone looking at ... OH SHIT."

Having a Big Jaw Means You're a Better Team Player

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

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.

DC Comics

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.

5 Ways Superman Is Shockingly Realistic According to Science

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.

Paul K Pickett is a Canadian just like Superman, according to Canadians. Contact him at paulkpickett@hotmail.com or check out his friend's webcomic.

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.


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?