College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-13-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Annette J. Towler, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Douglas Cellar, Ph.D.


Interest in research on heroism has begun to increase during the past decade, but, despite the ancient roots of heroism embedded deeply in cultures around the world, empirical work on the subject is relatively sparse. Direct and explicit empirical study of heroism in organizational contexts, specifically, is especially rare. The lack of organizational heroism research is surprising. There is a preponderance of evidence that organizational wrongdoing is observed across many organizations, sometimes to great extremes that are in violation of federal law, and it can have profound social impact. Organizational members who become aware of extreme wrongdoing committed by others are likely to experience negative cognitive and emotional states. Such states may require innocent organizational members who are aware of wrongdoing committed by others to engage in courageous, risky, and self-sacrificial behaviors in an effort to expose and end misconduct, often without any external benefit for taking action. These courageous actors are often heroic. Although a better understanding of heroic decision-making in organizations has the potential to curtail organizational and larger societal harm, no measurement instrument exists to assess the heroic cognitions of organizational members that may predict the likelihood that they will engage in heroic behaviors. In response to this gap in the literature, the present research sought to develop and explore the dimensionality of a measure of heroic cognition for workplace contexts. Using principal axis factoring for exploratory factor analysis with oblique factor rotation, four factors were extracted, accounting for 27.46% of the variance. After dropping the fourth factor of no theoretical import, and the third factor due to low internal reliability, two factors remained: heroic self-efficacy and acceptance of self-sacrifice. Formal content validation with a jury of social psychological SMEs, however, failed across all items in the retained factors. Potential item content confounds, lengthy and complex item wording, and the direct assessment of single-method self-reported heroic cognitions limited both the interpretability of the results and the utility of the scale for future research. Future research should further develop measures of the retained heroic self-efficacy and acceptance of self-sacrifice scales to circumvent the issues cited by the content validation panel. Initial construct validation studies using the revised scales should borrow methodologies from the change-oriented organizational citizenship behaviors literature, using a multi-trait multi-method approach that seeks to develop a nomological network for workplace heroic cognition. The present research provides the foundation for more targeted follow-up research efforts on heroic decision-making in organizations.