Synopses & Reviews
Have you ever wondered why a trumpeter of family values would suddenly turn around and cheat on his wife? Why jealousy would send an otherwise level-headed person into a violent rage? What could drive a person to blow a family fortune at the blackjack tables?
Or have you ever pondered what might make Mr. Right leave his beloved at the altar, why hypocrisy seems to be rampant, or even why, every once in awhile, even you are secretly tempted, to lie, cheat, or steal (or, conversely, help someone you never even met)?
This book answers these questions and more, and in doing so, turns the prevailing wisdom about who we are upside down. Our character, argue psychologists DeSteno and Valdesolo, isn’t a stable set of traits, but rather a shifting state that is subject to the constant push and pull of hidden mechanisms in our mind. And it's the battle between these dueling psychological forces that determine how we act at any given point in time.
Drawing on the surprising results of the clever experiments concocted in their own laboratory, DeSteno and Valdesolo shed new scientific light on so many of the puzzling behaviors that regularly grace the headlines. For example, you’ll learn:
• Why Tiger Woods just couldn’t resist the allure of his mistresses even though he had a picture-perfect family at home. And why no one, including those who knew him best, ever saw it coming.
• Why even the shrewdest of investors can be tempted to gamble their fortunes away (and why risky financial behavior is driven by the same mechanisms that compel us to root for the underdog in sports).
• Why Eliot Spitzer, who made a career of crusading against prostitution, turned out to be one of the most famous johns of all time.
• Why Mel Gibson, a noted philanthropist and devout Catholic, has been repeatedly caught spewing racist rants, even though close friends say he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.
• And why any of us is capable of doing the same, whether we believe it or not!
A surprising look at the hidden forces driving the saint and sinner lurking in us all, Out of Character reveals why human behavior is so much more unpredictable than we ever realized.
"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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
DAVID DESTENO is associate professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he is also director of the Social Emotions Lab. He is editor of the American Psychological Association’s journal Emotion and has served as a visiting associate professor of psychology at Harvard University. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, ABC News, Scientific American, and NPR. He has also guest-blogged for the New York Times Freakonomics blog.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO is an assistant professor of psychology at Claremont-McKenna College. His work has appeared both in top journals and major news outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, LA Times, and Newsweek, and he has been awarded fellowships at Harvard University and Amherst College. He is a contributor to the Scientific American Mind Matters blog.