Who’s got character?


Tolstoy wrote with such empathy, but abandoned his own illegitimate son. Nixon was a great father and husband despite his lack of integrity at work. Why are people so morally complicated, and why do we expect people’s character to be simple in the first place? In this talk, Dr. Iskra Fileva helps us understand character and our assumptions about it. Join us to find out the difference between moral talent and heroism, how to use psychology research to improve yourself, and much more. Among the many research studies we hit on, here are two especially interesting ones:

  • Readers think essays praising Fidel Castro show the authors’ real beliefs, even when those readers are informed that the authors were instructed to praise Castro. See Jones, E. E.; Harris, V. A. (1967). “The attribution of attitudes”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 3(1): 1–24. DOI:10.1016/0022-1031(67)90034-0.
  • The ambient smell (e.g., near a bakery vs. a gas station) affects how helpful people are to others. See Baron’s piece ”The Sweet Smell of Helping: Effects of Pleasant Ambient Fragrance on Prosocial Behavior in Shopping Malls.” An abstract is available here:  http://psp.sagepub.com/content/23/5/498.abstract

To keep exploring, try Dr. Fileva’s New York Times piece on character, John Doris’s Lack of Character, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, and Eugene O’Neill’s play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Listen and download here.

  • Visitor from out of town

    I am just visiting Chapel Hill and chanced upon this program. Wonderful show – thoughtful guest and knowledgeable host. I will listen to more episodes. Kudos to PsychTalk!

  • Freakanomicus

    A friend who heard this show on the radio referred me to it. Excellent podcast. The titles of the rest of the interviews sound intriguing as well. Thank you for making the interviews available online.

    • http://psychtalkradio.com/members/admin/ Jose Drost-Lopez

      Thanks–please help us spread the word!

  • MindMatters

    I have worked as a counselor in prison, and I can confirm what Dr.Fileva says about the attitude toward prisoners: once they are labeled “psychopaths,” it is very difficult to see them as reformed. However, many of them truly are.

  • Christopher Holvenstot

    I’m very impressed, again, Jose. Great work! Excellent guest. Great questions! Best, CH

  • Susan B

    I recently spent an evening with my daughter and her fiance, and I was struck by the fact that while with him, she was different from the daughter I know. I’ve been contemplating this fact and wondering whether I’ve never known her before. I and her father are divorced. She grew up with me, and we have always been very close. I thought I knew her really well. The ideas of your guest about the influence of context on character perception are very interesting and insightful. You have a new fan of the show.

    • http://psychtalkradio.com/ Jose Drost-Lopez

      It is very interesting to consider your perspective as a parent. In general I think it is very hard for parents and children to have a balanced view of each other, because of the powerful emotions involved in their relationship and the personas they adopt to manage those emotions.

  • Charles Rooney

    I had not listened to this show in a long time, and I just realized what I’ve been missing. Terrific podcast. I had to play the interview twice, because your guest made more points than I could digest in one sitting. I will try to catch up on the missed episodes. I think I am going to listen to the recent episode on attraction later tonight.