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The science of character

Gracie Lofthouse
Think you can't change your personality? Think again. We spoke to filmmaker Tiffany Shlain about the science of character development.

“Most people do not realize that they can strengthen their brains’, neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks wrote in The New York Times four years ago. Since then, neuroplasticity, what Sacks describes as “the brain’s capacity to create new pathways”, has become an increasingly popular – and lucrative – topic.

We’re obsessed with being smarter and more efficient. And we are, of course, enlisting the help of technology to upgrade our brains. Spritz makes you read faster; UltimEyes make you see farther. Various wearable trackers help you understand how you sleep, move and eat so you can make better choices.

But while researchers and businesses work out how to make us smarter, happier, and healthier, a smaller percentage are challenging ideas that we traditionally think of as being a bit more innate. Things like personality.

Personality upgrade

The Science of Character premiered online on March 20, 2014 (#CharacterDay). The film suggests that by focusing on character strengths like courage and creativity, you can actively shape your personality.

“Positive psychology is such a beautiful shift in thinking about character”, says Tiffany Shlain, the film’s director. Founded by Dr Martin Seligman, the positive psychology movement is dedicated to studying people’s strengths rather than their pathological behaviour. “We wanted people to feel empowered to know that they can shape [who they are],’ Tiffany says.

The self-improvement trend often elicits a collective groan from the more skeptical British readership; a lot of us are prone to dismissing ‘self-help’ culture as indicative of Western navel-gazing. But Seligman believes that character development techniques are key to overcoming what he calls society’s ‘extreme individualism’.

“We would like everyone, both kids and adults, to look at the list of character strengths and identify their five greatest strengths, and then to pick five they want to work on.” Go on, have a look – the list can be found here.

For more information on The Science of Character visit letitripple.org. Tiffany tweets: @tiffanyshlain

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