Three Americans on a Train to Paris: The Roots of Heroism

What enabled the three young Americans to attack and stop the well-armed man on the train from Amsterdam to Paris, most likely saving many lives, including their own? The man on the express train from Amsterdam to Paris had a number of weapons, but when Airman First Class Spenser Stone awoke from a deep sleep, what he saw was the AK-47 the man was holding. Stone said later it looked like the weapon wasn’t working, and he was trying to charge his weapon. Stone was on a European vacation with Alek Skarlatos, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard who just returned from service in Afghanistan, and Anthony Sandler, the three of them friends since middle school.

Skarlatos hit Stone on the shoulder as Stone was waking up and said “let’s go.” Stone did go, tackled the man, pushed him down and held him on the ground, even though the man cut him with a box cutter. Skarlatos grabbed the AK-47 out of his hand. He had more weapons, and the three friends hit him and tied him up. Three other people also acted; one helping the three Americans, one earlier attacking the man in another railroad car and was shot by him, the role of the third one unclear. But I won’t discuss the other people, since media reports gave little information about them.

A central influence leading a person to take action is a feeling of responsibility for others’ welfare — and presumably one’s own. In a number of studies, my students and I found that people who feel more responsible for others’ welfare help more when someone is in either physical distress, or in psychological distress. A feeling of responsibility can be the result either of the way parents socialized the child, or of experiences in —> Read More