Brave maidens

Julian O'Dea (jodea@MAILHOST.DPIE.GOV.AU)
Thu, 18 Jul 1996 13:12:33 +1000

Some time ago on the Ethology list we had a discussion on human bravery and
the possibility of a sociobiological explanation, along the lines of kin
selection and the ideas of Hamilton and Trivers.

Some of those involved in the discussion were Arnold Chamove, Joseph M. Stookey
Sturla Molden, Alex Olvido and Joao Pedro Neves.

At the time I referred to something I christened the "Grace Darling
Effect". Grace Darling was a famous young heroine who helped her father
row a boat out to a shipwrecked ship and rescue people. Her feat was
celebrated in the eponymous poem by William Wordsworth.

At the time I wrote:

"What I am referring to is that a surprising number of heroic acts are done
by teenage and younger girls.... This does not sit well with any of the
sociobiological explanations that I have seen discussed. A pre-pubescent
girl is unlikely to be advertising herself as altruistic to attract the
opposite sex and also, I would have thought, unlikely to be indulging in
misdirected altruism towards relatives. As a female who has not bred, it
makes little sense for her to endanger herself. "

Since then I have obtained information on the bravery awards made by the
Australian Government over the last five years. These will be fairly
"clean" data as the stories will have been officially checked. So I am not
having to rely on media reports.

The following cases have been described.

Miss Tracey Christine Gardner: "placed her own safety in jeopardy to save
another teacher from possible injury."

Miss Tiani Michelle Chillemi: "fought with an armed man to save one of
her parents' employees from further injury."

Miss Emily Rae Dunstan: "assisted in the rescue of her friend from the
sea off Weymouth Beach."

Miss Rachelle McNiven: " rescued a boy from drowning in heavy and
dangerous seas off North Narrabeen Beach."

Miss Angela Leigh Burke: "then aged 16, saved a boy under attack from a
street gang of youths."

Miss Jodie Lee Parremore: "at Clifton Beach...then aged 10, placed her
life at risk to save a young friend in danger."

On the basis that females described as "Miss" will be unmarried and
probably childless, and in these cases the persons being protected were not
relatives, these examples do not fit readily into any of the
sociobiological categories discussed previously on this (Ethology) list.

I am by no means a "nurture" fanatic, but I do think that sociobiological
explanations for human bravery must be supplemented by cultural

In case this is of any interest to people on the Anthropology list, I am
copying it to them.

Does anybody have any comments or thoughts? (Julian O'Dea)