Understanding the psychology of bravery and courage

Dr Patrick Tissington
Dr Patrick Tissington
2 November 2010

Dr Patrick Tissington a leading psychologist of Aston Business School sheds light on the extraordinary actions of ordinary men and women in war zones

He is hoping to enrich people’s understanding of war and its impact on ordinary people by explaining the psychology of bravery, as part of a landmark new exhibition opening in London next week.

Dr Patrick Tissington has worked with the Imperial War Museum on its new Lord Ashcroft Gallery and is attending the press launch next Tuesday (9 November). The gallery opens next Friday (November 12) – to coincide with Remembrance Weekend .

Here, Dr Tissington, a chartered psychologist specialising in the study of emergency decision-making and crisis management, has given his perspective on the psychology of bravery.

“Bravery is the management of fear,” said Dr Tissington. He added: “There is no one personality type that you see who is brave. We cannot predict who is going to be brave and who is not.”

He explained how there are different types of courage, which depends on the situation people find themselves in. For example, “hot courage” is where the individual leaps into action, not thinking about consequences but what he or she feels is the right and proper thing to do at that moment in time.

Dr Tissington gave a specific example of Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC, of the Royal Marines who is in line to receive a medal for his bravery. In Afghanistan in 2008, during a covert patrol of a Taliban bomb factory, Croucher threw himself onto a grenade smothering its explosion. This quick, decisive action saved the lives of his comrades and thanks to his backpack he too, remarkably, escaped with few injuries. His extensively damaged backpack will be on display in the new gallery. 

The launch of the new gallery, paid for by a £5 million donation from Lord Ashcroft, will see the unveiling of a new exhibition – Extraordinary Heroes. Visitors to this exhibition will discover the personal stories behind each decoration in a state-of-the-art new space filled with interactive touch-screens, multimedia platforms and original interpretation.

In addition, the exhibition contains the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses, which has been established by Lord Ashcroft since 1986. The 162 awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands wars, will go on display for the first time alongside 48 Victoria Crosses and 31 George Crosses already held by the Museum.

The Victoria Cross and George Cross decorations featured in the gallery will be arranged by seven different qualities – leadership, sacrifice, aggression, skill, initiative, endurance, and boldness – encouraging visitors to examine an individual’s reaction to the difficult decisions behind their feat of bravery.

Lord Ashcroft said: “My fascination with bravery, and in particular the Victoria Cross, goes back to my childhood, so I’m thrilled to be responsible for a new gallery at the Imperial War Museum which will help audiences of all ages discover some of the most gallant actions in history. The Museum’s reputation for helping people understand the experience of modern conflicts is unrivalled, and I’m confident that members of the public will be inspired and motivated by the exceptional courage of the ordinary men, women and children featured in the outstanding exhibition.”

The Victoria Cross is Britain and the Commonwealth’s premier award for extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy, while the George Cross is Britain’s most prestigious civil decoration.

Admission to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes exhibition is free. Visitors may experience a short wait at peak times.

To speak to Dr Patrick Tissington telephone 0121 204 3258. For any media enquiries, please contact Dhiren Katwa, Press Officer at Aston Business School, on 0121 204 4954 or email d.katwa1@aston.ac.uk