Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Courage motivation

Courage motivation:
What is courage, what motivates courage, and how can courage be enhanced?


Focus questions:

  • What is courage?
  • What are the different types of courage?
  • How can courage be expressed/measured?
  • What motivates courage?
  • How can courage be enhanced?

What is courage?Edit

Superhero[Provide more detail]

Most of us know what courage is ... or at least, we think we do.

It's what heroes have in the movies; how they make the tough decisions. It's the ability to do something that frightens you; to act with bravery. It's standing up to a bully, or saying no, or being yourself. In reality; courage is an emotion that can take many forms and be expressed in many ways depending upon the situation and the individual. However, before we can ask 'how can courage be enhanced', we first must ask 'what courage actually is'?

Courage is an extremely complex "universal virtue" (Goud, 2011) that is[grammar?] manifests and motivates individuals in extremely different ways. Goud (2011) determined courage to be an "energising catalyst for choosing growth over safety needs"; a drive towards expanding, extending, developing, and maturing oneself, often in the face of fear. Due to the pivotal role courage plays in one’s growth, it is imperative to understand the dimensions of courage and how they can be developed. Gould therefore concluded there are three primary dimensions of courage which work simultaneously and in varying intensities: fear, appropriate action, and purpose.


Fear is considered the first dimension of courage as it is often fear that motivates courageous acts. Individuals experience differing levels of fear, whether it be overwhelming expectations, new experiences, small spaces or spiders, and as a result of such experience[grammar?], are triggered to respond to their fears with courageous action. Fear encourages individuals to engage in resources that counter threat’s[grammar?], create a sense of aliveness and focus one’s consciousness.

Source 1: Goud (2011) three primary dimensions of courage.

Appropriate actionEdit

Appropriate action is considered the second dimension of courage; the dimension in which the individual responds to their fear in one of three ways. They may engage with their fear using courage; assessing the danger of their environment, the resources they have available and therefore what action can be taken. On the other hand, one may respond to their fear with cowardice, avoiding their fear or attempting to ‘flee’ from such fear, or with foolhardiness, acting impulsively and taking unnecessary risks.


Purpose is considered the third dimension of courage and it determines that when individuals act upon their fear, they do so with courage due to a higher purpose and/or value beyond their own self-beliefs.

Implicit TheoriesEdit

In addition to the attempts to understand courage through the three dimensions described above, there are many implicit theories that aim to explore the nature of courage and courageous acts. Implicit theories are people’s own cognitive constructions which aim to discover the form and content of other people’s informal theories, and are important as they allow individuals the opportunity to measure each other’s courage based on what implicit theories determine courage to mean (Rate, Clarke, Lindsay, & Sternberg, 2007). Majority of judgements about courage are based upon implicit theories as there is no formal test of courage due to the complex nature of the emotion, and therefore there are several implicit theories relating to courage and what forms courageous acts can take (Rate, Clarke, Lindsay, & Sternberg, 2007).

One implicit theory suggests that courage requires sacrifice, risk and overcoming fear for a good purpose and determines individuals who demonstrate courage can endure, persevere and overcome hardship and adversity (Phillips, 2004). Another implicit theory determines that courage should be defined as the ability to act for a good, noble or practical cause despite experiencing fear and perceived threat (Woodard, 2004). Evan and White (1981) suggested courage was mostly likely involved, in part, with the perceived fear of the target actor as well as the fear level of the person conducting the fear evaluation. Ultimately, implicit theories provide another way for courage to be explored and understood through a number of different perspectives with different reasoning (Rate, Clarke, Lindsay, & Sternberg, 2007).

Video break!

Watch this video to help understand courage:

What are the different types of courage?Edit

Now we understand what the emotion 'courage' actually is, we can next investigate the different forms it can take. There are several different types of courage, which can be expressed in a number of ways; physical vs moral courage, personal vs general courage, and civil courage. To best understand courage as an emotion found in humans, and how it can be enhanced, it is first important to understand the different forms courage may take.

Physical vs Moral CourageEdit

Olsthoorn (2007) investigated the different kinds of courage expressed in the military and concluded that courage can be expressed as physical and/or moral[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Although physical and moral courage seem to be intertwined, their connection is less straightforward than often thought; the development of physical courage in today’s military contributes only slightly for the development of moral courage, unlike previously thought (Olsthoorn, 2007). Olsthoorn (2007) determined that courage, when looked at from a scientific approach, focuses mainly on the perspective of fear and acting in a courageous way resulting from fear however, he coined courage to be something different. Oslthoorn (2007) determined physical courage as what “is at stake”, physical life and limbs and tangible objects while moral courage as being able to take action for ethical or moral reasons, despite potential adverse consequences or risks (Khoshmehr, Barkhordari-Sharifabad, Nasiriani, & Fallahzadeh, 2020)[for example?]. The way in which these forms can be distinguished depends upon the action or situation which prompts a courageous response; the environment that asks the individual to act courageously and the risk to their status and environment that might incur (Olsthoorn, 2007).

Personal vs General CourageEdit

Pury, Kowalski and Spearman (2007) investigated the distinctions between personal and general courage, diving into the ways they may manifest themselves within different individuals. Pury, Kowalski and Spearman (2007) determined personal courage referred to actions undertaken by an individual that are courageous only for that particular individual whereas general courage referred to actions undertaken by an individual that may be courageous for anyone. It was concluded that actions high in general courage were generally made with less fear and more courage, as well as fewer personal limitations while actions high in personal courage were generally made with more fear, despite greater difficulty (Pury, Kowalski, & Spearman, 2007).[for example?]

Civil CourageEdit

Greitemeyer, Osswald, Fisher and Frey (2007) determined civil courage to be integrated closely with empathy, self-assertion and justice and therefore these values may be used when explaining civil courage. Generally, when confronted with fear or injustice, the observer of such situation[grammar?] is motivated to restore justice by compensating or assisting the victim; this action is considered to be of a civil courageous nature (Greitemeyer, Osswald, Fischer, & Frey, 2007). One’s willingness to engage in civil courage is dependent upon several factors, one of which being their personal perception of justice and injustice, as well as their sense of empathy and confidence in asserting their own opinions and ideas (Greitemeyer, Osswald, Fischer, & Frey, 2007). An individual is more likely to engage in civil courage if they demonstrate high levels of empathy, and therefore feel compelled to help the victim, a worldly sense of justice and injustice, and therefore can recognise when civil courage is necessary, and strong faith in their own opinions, allowing them the confidence to speak out against such injustices (Greitemeyer, Osswald, Fischer, & Frey, 2007).[for example?]

How can courage be expressed/measured?Edit

Next we must look at how courage can be expressed and measured, allowing us to further understand the emotion so we can best harness it and enhance it in order for us to act more courageously.

Norton and Weiss's Courage Measure (CM)Edit

Norton and Weiss’s courage measure (CM) (2009) was investigated by Howard and Alipour (2014) to determine its validity; whether it actually measures courage? Norton and Weiss’s (2009) CM developed a 12 item which assessed self-perceived courageousness and was measured upon a 7-point Likert-type scale. The CM used an operational definition of courage as “persistence or perseverance despite having fear” and items were statements demonstrating courage such as “even if something scares me, I will not back down” and “I will do things even though they seem to be dangerous” (Norton & Weiss, 2009). 4 items were reverse coded. Howard and Alipour (2014) determined that the CM actually measured persistence despite the presence of fear rather than courage itself; they determined the operationalised definition was flawed and that the CM would benefit from the removal of the reverse coded items. Therefore, it can be determined that Norton and Weiss’s (2009) courage measure is not an accurate measure of courage and should not be used solely when measuring courage.  

Source 2: Measuring Courage; Energy, Awareness and Passion

Energy, Awareness and PassionEdit

DeSimone (2019) conducted a study investigating the importance of moral courage within nursing and they determined it was best measured using a 5-point response scale ranging from not at all, somewhat, moderately, well to extremely well. They determined that moral courage was greatly aligned with five aspects when in relation to nursing; respectfulness in collaboration with other health-care teams, responsibility in using technology to assess ethical and historical issues relating to nursing, compassion when making and defending ethical decisions, honesty when providing and evaluating care and fairness when understanding sociocultural diversity and cultural competence (DeSimone, 2019). Ultimately, DeSimone (2019) determined that courage was best measured on a Likert scale where individuals were asked to indicate how important each value was to them.

Positive Traits and Positive StatesEdit

Hannah, Sweeney and Lester (2007) proposed that a courageous mindset was composed of two factors:

  1. Personal resources being increased to reduce fear
  2. Residual fear being overcome to promote courageous action.

This proposal was supported by the notion that positive traits such as openness to experience, self-evaluation and conscientiousness demonstrate strong links to intensity of fear, perceptions of risk, and courageous behaviour (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007). It is therefore suggested that individuals who demonstrate high levels of openness to experiences and conscientiousness while also engaging in constant self-evaluation are more likely to engage in courageous acts when faced with fear than individuals who do not engage in such behaviour (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007).

Hannah, Sweeney and Lester (2007) also found that individuals who reported positive states such as malleable states of efficacy, resilience and hope were more likely to engage in courageous acts than individuals without such mindsets. Self-efficacy, that is one’s belief in their ability, helped greatly with information processing during stressful situations, while means efficacy, that is one’s belief in the utility and quality of the resources at their disposal, allowed for a reduction in perceived fear and an increase in personal confidence in courageous action (Bandura, 1997; Eden, 2001). Resilience, that is one’s capacity to bounce back after conflict, encourages an individual to overcome stress within a crisis or in the face of fear while hope provides individuals in fearful situations with a goal-direction energy and promotes alternative paths to success (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007). Ultimately individuals who demonstrate high levels of self and means efficacy, resilience and hope are more likely to engage in courageous action and be successful in the face of fear than individuals who do not engage in such mindsets (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007).

What motivates courage?Edit

Understanding how courage can be expressed and then measured further begs the question how is motivated and so by extension; why do we act with courage?[Rewrite to improve clarity] Possibly the biggest motivator of courageous actions is fear. Many studies have been conducted to determine exactly what courage is, the forms it may take, the ways it may be expressed and soon, how it can be enhanced. While there may be some debate concerning the nature of each of the topics, the one thing generally agreed upon among scholars regarding courage is that fear is the main motivator of courage (Goud, 2011). Ultimately, individuals act with courage because they face fear.

Goud (2011) determined the third primary dimension of courage is purpose. Purpose refers to one's reason for acting with courage when facing fear; it is one's beliefs and opinions, or belief in a higher power and/or purpose that drives them to act with courage. Individuals respond to their fear, with appropriate action, because they have a purpose and therefore courage is motivated by both fear and the individuals[grammar?] purpose.

How can courage be enhanced?Edit

Now we understand the emotion of courage, and how it can be expressed, measured and motivated, it is important to investigate how courage can be developed and then enhanced. Such investigation offers the opportunity to individuals to utilise tools in an attempt to grow their own levels of courage, therefore leading to more courageous actions.


Ella is 21-year-old female who has social anxiety. She is currently working on being more courageous in social situation in hopes that it will allow her to engage more freely with new people and hopefully form new relationships and friendships.

Source 3: Guidelines for Developing and Enhancing Courage

Guidelines for Developing and Enhancing CourageEdit

Goud proposed three guidelines for individuals to utilise in attempt to develop and enhance courage; they include perceiving a purpose, managing fears, and instilling trust and confidence in one’s competences (Goud, 2011).

  • Perceiving a purpose in the presence of fear can assist individuals in developing both short and long term courageous responses and meaningful participation in situations that demand courage (Goud, 2011).
  • Managing fears encourages an individual to recognise a stressful or fearful stimuli/environment in an attempt to reduce the fear elicited by such a situation as recognition can lead to planning and the creation of strategies to move forward (Goud, 2011).
  • Instilling trust and confidence in one's competences links directly to self-efficacy; one’s own belief in their ability (Champion & Skinner, 2008). Demonstrating self-efficacy can greatly increase one’s willingness and motivation to engage in fearful situations with courageous responses (Goud, 2011).
Case study

Goud[factual?] would suggest employing the guidelines managing fears, trust and confidence and perceiving a purpose. Ella[explain more about Ella - what's the problem/situation?] wants to form new friendships and therefore that would be her purpose. In managing her fears she should recognise the stressful/fearful stimuli and determine possible outcomes, and should demonstrate self-efficacy by reminding herself of times she has been successful in social situations.

When faced with fear in social situations Ella should remember her purpose that she would like to make new friendships, manage her fears by thinking of the best- and worst-case scenarios that could occur and have belief and confidence in her ability to demonstrate courage in the face of fear by reminding herself of past times she has been successful in social situations. Following Goud’s (2011) guidelines should help Ella face fear within social situations and ultimately increase her capacity for courage.

Building Moral CourageEdit

In their investigation of moral courage DeSimone (2019) also determined that an individual's moral courage development was greatly influenced and enhanced by three main factors; energy, awareness and passion. Energy from feedback arising from using moral courage, awareness from being in touch with one’s environment and passion from believing in the power of one’s values (DeSimone, 2019). Ultimately, DeSimone (2019) determined the development and by extension, enhancement of moral courage was greatly influenced by one's energy, awareness and passion, suggesting individual's looking to enhance their capacity for courage should get in touch with such factors.

Case study

To build her moral courage within social situations, DeSimone (2019) would suggest Ella focus on her energy, awareness and passion. Ella should remember times she has been socially courageous and pay specific notice to the rush of energy and satisfaction that comes from such success. Ella should remind herself to stay grounded in the environment and social situation and demonstrate passion in her own ability to be successful within social situation, leading to high self-efficacy, and hopefully overall greater courage within social situations.

Positive Traits and Positive StatesEdit

In their investigation of courage, Hannah, Sweeney and Lester (2007) determined that individuals who engaged in positive traits and positive states/mindsets were more likely to engage in courageous acts due to lower levels of stress and higher levels of perseverance using strategies. Therefore, it can be suggested that individuals who aim to enhance their capacity for courageous action should engage in positive traits and positive states (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007). Consequently, individuals aiming to enhance their capacity for courageous action should engage in/increase their engagement in continuous self-evaluation as well as their openness to new experiences and conscientiousness (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007). Individuals wanting to enhance their capacity for courageous action should also aim to develop a strong sense of resilience and hopeful, positive thinking, as well as self-efficacy and means-efficacy, leading to a strong will and strength in the face of fear and stressful stimuli (Hannah, Sweeney, & Lester, 2007).

Case study

Hannah, Sweeney and Lester (2007) would suggest Ella work on her positive traits and positive states in attempt to improve her courage within social situations. Ella could engage in self-evaluation such as by journaling in a diary, increase her openness and engagement in new experiences and develop conscientiousness within her social interactions. Ella should also aim to develop her resilience and hopefulness by reminding herself of times she successfully engaged in social interactions and her hopes for future social interactions. Ella should also aim to develop strong self-efficacy and means-efficacy, demonstrating confidence in her own ability, as well as the tools she possesses to successfully deal with social situations.


Source 4: Courage Infographic

This chapter explored the emotion of courage; what courage actually is and the different forms it may take, how courageous acts can be expressed and measure, the main motivating factor that drives courageous action and how courage can be enhanced.

Courage has three dimensions of courage; fear, appropriate action and purpose, and can take many forms such as; physical, moral, personal, general or civil. Courageous action can be measured in several different ways however not all are measures are reliable. This chapter explored the Norton and Weiss Courage Measure and provided information for why this was an inaccurate measure of courage, while other measures based upon implicit theories were considered accurate measures of courage. DeSimone (2019) determined courage could be measured using a 5-point response scale that indicated aspects relating to courage, while Hannah, Sweeney and Lester (2007) proposed courage could be measured through one’s demonstration of positive traits and positive states.

Methods and guidelines for enhancing and building different forms of courage were also explored; Goud (2011) determined perceiving a purpose, managing fears and trust and confidence would assist an individual in enhancing their ability for courage, while DeSimone (2019) determined one’s energy, awareness and passion greatly contributed to their ability for courage and Hannah, Sweeney and Lester (2007) determined one’s positive traits and positive states (mindsets) have a great ability to enhance courageous action.

People can display courage in many forms, at many levels and therefore it can be suggested that no two individuals will experience the same kinds of courage in the same way or have the same capacity for courage. Therefore, one should not be discouraged if they feel someone else is more courageous than themselves because, as discussed above, courage and courageous action is incredibly subjective and personal and therefore one's capacity for courageous action can be developed.

Finally, one should not feel disheartened or dispirited if they perceived their own ability for courage to be small. One’s ability for courageous action is mailable and can be enhanced through a number of different techniques and mindset changes. Therefore, all individuals have the potential to experience courage and engage in courageous actions, whether it be a natural talent or a skill that is worked upon and enhanced.  

See alsoEdit


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

DeSimone, B. B. (2019). Curriculum redesign to build the moral courage values of accelerated bachelor's degree nursing students. SAGE Open Nursing, 1-10.

Evans, P. D., & White, D. G. (1981). Towards an empirical definition of courage. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 419-424.

Goud, N. H. (2011). Courage: Its Nature and Development. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 102-116.

Greitemeyer, T., Osswald, S., Fischer, P., & Frey, D. (2007). Civil courage: Implicit theories, related concepts, and measurements. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 115-119.

Hannah, S. T., Sweeney, P. J., & Lester, P. B. (2007). Toward a courageous mindset: The subjective act and experience of courage . The Journal of Positive Psychology, 129-135.

Howard, M. C., & Alipour, K. K. (2014). Does the courage measure really measure courage? A theoretical and empirical evaluation. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 449-459.

Khoshmehr, Z., Barkhordari-Sharifabad, M., Nasiriani, K., & Fallahzadeh, H. (2020). Moral courage and psychological empowerment among nurses. BMC Nursing, 43.

Norton, P. J., & Weiss, B. J. (2009). The role of courage on behavioral approach in a fear-eliciting situation: A proof-of-concept pilot study. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 212-217.

Olsthoorn, P. (2007). Courage in the Military: Physical and Moral. Journal of Military Ethics, 270-279.

Philips, C. (2004). Six questions of Socrates. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Pury, C. L., Kowalski, R. M., & Spearman, J. (2007). Distinctions between general and personal courage. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 99-114.

Rate, C. R., Clarke, J. A., Lindsay, D. R., & Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Implicit theories of courage. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 80-98.

Woodard, C. R. (2004). Hardiness and the Concept of Courage. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 173-185.

External linksEdit