Monday, May 7, 2012

Out of Character by David DeSteno and PIercarlo Valdesolo


Out of Character: Suprising Truths about the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us by David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo is a fascinating examination of what creates character, how we define character, and what it means to act "out of character". DeStano and Valdesolo give examples from recent (and not so recent) news stories where public figures seem to act in ways that don't make sense given what we know of their character - or public persona anyway.  They intersperse experiments done as part of college classes to demonstrate how environment and circumstances affect people's behavior. The authors use the famous parable of the grasshopper and the ant to illustrate how human beings minds are either in a "pleasure right now" or a "prepare for later" mode when making decisions about life. They explain how this works better than the often seen "devil" and "angel" on the shoulders story. By using the grasshopper and ant versus the angel and devil, they offer evidence to demonstrate that the decisions are less about morality and more about survival in a given moment. While the average person may find the results of some of the experiments hard to accept, the authors present the material in a convincing manner. Out of Character presents a compelling case for the theory that all people have the capacity for good and evil inside them, and that each person chooses what aspect to embrace based on the set of circumstances presented. Whether this leads the reader to lean toward compassion or cynicism will likely depend on the reader's frame of mind. Out of Character can be dry at times especially for readers who don't enjoy reading about scientific experimentation. Overall, the writers keep the reader engaged and interested in their research which appears to be ongoing. A very interesting book for anyone who is fascinated by what makes people choose the actions they choose in life.

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