The Best Books on Character Development | Five Books Expert Recommendations

The value of your book is so impressive that some students in the United States are graded on it. tell us about the book and the attribute itself.

grit is the combination of passion and perseverance over long periods of time. it’s staying committed to what you do over periods of time. for young people, that period of time can be a month; for adults, it can mean several years.

You are reading: Books about character development

my book grit summed up everything I’ve learned as a scientist studying high achievers, as someone trying to help others grow, and as a former teacher and mother trying to raise two girls to be happy and healthy. . I tried to make science accessible. Before I started writing, I read a lot of science and non-fiction bestsellers. a lot of them were written by men in a very polished journalistic style, good writing, but it just wasn’t me. I like to read memoirs, so I tried to write a book with my voice.

our theme “character development” is at the center of their work. that phrase might bring to mind a writing workshop or a method acting class, but what do you think it means? what motivated you to found the character lab at the university of pennsylvania?

‘character’ is a word that means different things to different people. I use it in the way that Aristotle used the character. having character is being someone who does well, but more importantly, others do well too. When we say that we admire someone’s character, we begin to think of things like honesty and integrity, kindness and generosity. we could also say that we admire his work ethic, his determination or his optimism.

“unlike the time of Aristotle, now science can help improve our character”

I think of character as a plural noun. Many things make up our character. The reason I’m so passionate about our work at the Character Lab is because, unlike in the days of Aristotle, science can now help improve our character. there are research studies on determination, on gratitude, on curiosity. scientific understanding of how these attributes help and how they are developed are great advances. I started the character lab to translate that insight into advice that can be used by parents, teachers, and leaders who don’t have doctorates in psychology.

You have recommended five books that can be used. the marshmallow test: why self-control is the engine of success is the first.

sigmund freud said that the main developmental challenge of childhood is being able to delay the gratification of certain drives and deny certain drives altogether. that is what allows you to reach maturity as an adult. no one had figured out how to test that until walter mischel.

the marshmallow test is one of the greatest experiments in psychology, conducted by one of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century, walter mischel. he created a test in which children were given a choice: do you want to eat one candy or several? all the kids in the experiment, and I really mean all of them, chose the bigger stack.

walter would then say: you can keep the biggest stack, but you have to wait until he does something in the other room and comes back. then she would ask, ‘do you want to wait?’ and again, all the kids were like, ‘oh, I can wait!’ Walter left the room and watched what would happen next. many kids gobbled up a marshmallow as soon as he came out. some children were able to wait two minutes, seven minutes, even fifteen minutes. So Walter followed these kids through life.

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The ability to wait predicted a wide range of life outcomes, as did Freud and Walter’s hypothesis. how long he sat (the ability to delay gratification) predicted the quality of his friendships, his physical health, and whether he would commit a crime, along with a host of other positive outcomes in the future.

It’s not just about the marshmallow test, it’s also autobiographical. talks about his struggles with self-control and how he developed his experiments. it is fascinating. But the best reason to read this book, and I think the reason his books remain perennially popular, is because Walter kept his life’s work between two covers. he integrates all his studies, all his wisdom. It’s wonderful that we still have the book, because we lost Walter.

Next, you chose a curious mind of brian grazer.

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I read a curious mind in one sitting. I sank into a chair and entered the story of this person, who didn’t start out with material advantages, but ended up doing great creative work as a Hollywood producer, creating award-winning and hugely popular works like Apollo 13 and Arrested Development. The list of things Brian Grazer did is long and it’s all due to his curious mind.

“curiosity makes you smarter: when you are curious about something, you learn and remember it better than if it bores you”

He calls curiosity “a superpower.” When we read this book, filled with his personal story, we understand how curiosity made his life extraordinary. the book has many stories about curious conversations with people who are famous for different reasons and in different fields. I read it cover to cover in part because it’s so much fun and so fueled by curiosity and creativity.

What does research on curiosity reveal?

Curiosity is increasingly attracting the attention of top neuroscientists and psychologists. One of the things a scientist named Matthias Gruber has discovered is that curiosity makes you smarter: when you’re curious about something, you learn and remember it better than if you’re bored. I’m very excited about the upcoming research on curiosity.

carol dweck’s mindset is as follows. Tell us about the science that led to a conflagration of character development school assemblies in the last decade.

a recent study showed that most teachers in the united states know this phrase: growth mindset. why? I think partly because it’s so intuitive. Growth mindset is the belief that people can grow with effort and opportunity. But Dweck recently said there’s a lot of “false growth mindsets.” I’ve seen that happen in schools, where whenever kids are struggling, they’re told “you need a growth mindset.” Of course, many other factors are important and must be addressed. but you also need to understand that “growth mindset” is not just a catchphrase.

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“I never met a CEO who didn’t have a mindset on his shelf”

Understanding the research that Carol Dweck has done and unpacking is invaluable. Why do some have a fixed mindset? where do they come from? What goes through kids’ heads when they fail? How does mindset determine what we do? Furthermore, Carol Dweck is not only a great psychologist, she is an outstanding writer. it is a beautifully written book.

Without exaggeration, I’ve never met a CEO who didn’t have a mindset on their shelf. resonates with people who have been successful—CEOs, coaches, and other leaders—because the belief that their abilities can grow is central to their achievement.

How is the science of character development advancing to ensure that psychological interventions, such as school-mindedness programs, reap substantial benefits in offices and classrooms?

We are the first generation to use the science of experimental psychology to help people be happier and healthier. When Carol Dweck researches mindset, or I research self-control, or Matthias Gruber researches curiosity, we don’t want people to learn the wrong lesson. Take the importance of practice: Studies show that not all practice is effective, but concentrated practice focused on precise skills, with deliberate goals and immediate feedback, can lead to big improvements in performance.

We did a very short experiment where we taught kids that information and found that, compared to placebo controls, their grades actually improved. I could say that the lesson of all this research and the lesson of your character lab is that it only takes 25 minutes to change a child. but I don’t think that’s the lesson. For example, in the experiment I just told you about, the performance gains disappeared or were diluted over longer periods of time, so that by the second marking period after the intervention, they were no longer detectable.

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“studies show that not all practice is effective, but concentrated practice focused on precise skills can lead to huge improvements in performance”

The real lesson is that if you, as a parent, coach, teacher, or boss, help someone understand the nature of the practice, you’ll help them deal with the effort and frustration required to achieve better results. that needs to be reinforced continuously and in every possible way. therefore, we are working to provide the scientific insights you can use to improve their management, breeding, and teaching. but applying that knowledge is not as simple as passing it on.

popular: The power of likeability in a world obsessed with status is next.

Mitch Prinstein is a fabulous psychologist who studies social intelligence. I only chose books that I think are great science, but also very well written. Prinstein wrote a wonderful book, very warm and familiar. there are a lot of great stories and it’s a great summary of pretty much everything that’s known on the topic of popularity.

Popularity is an inescapable part of life, especially for teenagers and the people who love them, but for everyone in many facets of life. His work (and this book) shows that there are ways to approach the popularity game that are bad for you and bad for others.

A chicken or the egg question: With attributes like popularity and growth mindset, how do we tell if those attributes lead to success or if success leads to those attributes?

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The thing about the chicken-and-egg question is that for pretty much everything I study (value, popularity, productivity), the relationship between attribute and achievement is actually reciprocal. in other words, there is no really good answer to your question, because they happen. for example, children who are more socially adept and have more friends do better in school, which probably helps them to have more friends. both my intuition and science show that most things feed off each other.

This is why we can enter into virtuous cycles. children who are happy are healthy and tend to do well in school, which makes them happy and healthy. it also means that there are vicious circles: people who start to get depressed and socially isolated and stop sleeping well. performance drops, causing a continual downward spiral. what we want are upward spirals.

Road to Purpose, by William Damon, is your last recommendation.

bill damon pioneered science on purpose. he would say that the purpose is to do something that is beyond the self, but is also self-rewarding. that’s what’s so magical about it. personally, my main goal is to help people prosper. but I also find the process very rewarding and enjoyable. There’s nothing I want to do more passionately than read a new psychology article.

In the book, bill damon talks about his own research and that of others. his research shows that only a minority of young people have a sense of purpose. he studies both those with a sense of purpose and those without. her research focuses on where purpose comes from and how to share it. It is a beautifully written book, and quite short. when you read it, you feel like you are sitting in front of someone who is not only a great scientist, but also a wise soul. Path to Purpose radiates warmth, empathy, and wisdom on how to lead a good life. That’s why it has had a great impact.

purpose seems more like a vocation than a cultivable character attribute. when the cultivation of any characteristic is proposed, questions of “nature versus nurture” are raised. How is character development shaped by genes and environment?

All the books I recommended refer to genetically influenced attributes. at the same time, all these things have environmental form. The practical take-home answer is yes, we are born with different genes, but our role models – how we are raised, the quality of our educational experiences, and whether we have access to sports and music – also influence who we are. so it’s not nature or nurture: it’s nature and nurture.

Is there science on how to prevent the development of negative traits?

Science teaches us that we disproportionately focus on things that are going wrong and tend to underestimate what is right. And studies also show that, in general, reinforcing the positive and highlighting strengths is more effective in remedying negative behavior than dwelling on what’s wrong. therefore, in general, positive reinforcement is the best way to deter negative behavior.

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