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© 2014 The Johns Hopkins University Press. Why is the comic-book superhero such a persistent topic of cultural representation? Citing Dutton's evolutionary aesthetic, we argue that comic-book superheroes persist because they offer a cultural means of negotiating the gap between the small group size that human beings have evolved a cognitive architecture to deal with, and the much larger group size that is entailed by modern social arrangements. This position implies four predictions: the superhero should (1) exhibit punitive prosociality, (2) be supernatural or quasi-supernatural, (3) be minimally counterintuitive, and (4) display kin-signaling proxies. These predictions are tested against seventeen superhero figures from various comic-book universes.

Original publication




Journal article


Philosophy and Literature

Publication Date





A195 - A215