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

Character. We want it in our leaders, we look for it in our spouses and friends, we try to teach it to our children. The prevailing view is that it comes from hard work and due diligence. It’s cultivated; it’s stable. But if character is so stable, then why do we so often disagree over who’s got it and who doesn’t? Why do we so often see paragons of virtue fall, see supposedly honest people deceive, and find ourselves surprised when those without a good bone in their body engage in acts of humility and generosity?

In Out of Character: The Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us, we attempt to turn the prevailing wisdom upside down by showing that character, nobility, and goodness are all shaped to a high degree by forces outside of our awareness. We’ll take readers into our lab to provide first-hand accounts of how the best and worst of humanity arise from the interplay of these hidden forces and the emotions they evoke. From jealousy and bigotry to compassion and altruism, from cheating and hypocrisy to honesty and loyalty, from self-indulgence to self-control, we’ll provide a unique window into the forces that shape our character from moment to moment by watching these phenomena unfold before our very eyes.

What People Are Saying About Out of Character:

“My bad—and your bad too. This smart and lively book uses cutting-edge research in psychological science to reveal the hero and the villain that live inside each of us."

—Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard and bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness

 

“Who would have ever thought that a pair of social psychologists would have so much to say about good and evil? David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo are brilliant experimentalists and deep thinkers, and Out of Character hits the sweet-spot—it's scientifically rigorous, smoothly written, and achingly relevant to everyday life. It shows how laboratory research is undermining the very notion of a fixed moral character, and explores a new approach to hypocrisy, pride, prejudice, jealousy, and love."

—Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale and author of How Pleasure Works and Just Babies

 

“David DeSteno has not only done much of the most interesting and path-breaking work on how emotions guide human behavior, he is also unusually gifted at making ideas come alive for the intelligent reader. As the marketing people say, his brand is reliable. Whenever I spot an article about his work in The New York Times or one of the news weeklies, I always read it. And I'm never sorry."

—Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell and author of The Darwin Economy

 

“There’s a lot of talk about the ‘wisdom’ of the emotions, but Dave DeSteno is one of the few people who can tell us which emotions make us wise, and when, and why. DeSteno has a gift for creating experimental situations that trigger real emotions, and he has used this gift to unlock the secrets of a wide range of emotions, including jealousy, pride, and gratitude. He also has the breadth and vision to write about the role that these emotions play in creating and sometimes solving problems of everyday living. As one of the leading emotion researchers, DeSteno’s work is likely to be of broad interest to a reading public that knows that emotion is where the action is in explaining human behavior.”

—Jonathan Haidt, professor of management at NYU and bestselling author of The Righteous Mind

 

“Dave is one of social psychology’s clearest thinkers and finest writers. His book will effortlessly synthesize real-world social experiences with scientific findings in a way that readers will find incredibly exciting and illuminating. There are few in our field who have done more to create a deep understanding of the links between thinking, feeling, and social behavior than Dave. I love reading his work.”

—Peter Salovey, president of Yale University