Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us

David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo. Crown Archetype, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-307-71775-7
While we think of "character" as fairly formed by adolescence, DeSteno and Valdesolo, psychology professors respectively at Northwestern and Amherst, show that it is anything but. Rather, they say, character is somewhat fluid, sometimes seeking short-term self-interest, sometimes long-term self-interest, and changing according to emotions and circumstance. The authors, report on experiments in which they and colleagues have looked at seven major areas of character: hypocrisy vs. morality, love vs. lust, pride vs. hubris, compassion vs. cruelty, fairness vs. unfairness, playing it safe vs. risk-taking, and tolerance vs. bigotry. Their often fascinating results show, for example, in risk-taking experiments, that the subjects were more likely to take risks when the winners' rewards (in this case, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies) were present in the room during the game. Clearly and succinctly, and marshaling varied and colorful evidence, the authors demonstrate that most of us can be either "saints" or "sinners," but usually operate on a continuum between these extremes. People who seem to act "out of character," then, may simply be expressing a previously latent character trait that makes short-term psychological sense for them in a particular circumstance. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/21/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
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