CLEMSON — While many college football fans are focused on this week’s matchup between the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Clemson Tigers, off the playing field these two institutions are making advances in the understanding of human character.

Recent years have seen remarkable developments in the study of human mind and behavior, and researchers at Clemson and Wake Forest are using this to address traditional questions about the nature of character.

Charles Starkey, associate professor in the philosophy and religion department and fellow of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson, is working closely with The Character Project at Wake Forest, and his research provides evidence that emotions have a central role in character.

“Emotions are essential to character because they underlie our fundamental values, which generate specific character traits and overall character,” Starkey said. “Emotions also affect character by their demonstrated effects on perception, thought and action.”

Starkey explained that humans focus on and have better memory recall of things that they respond to emotionally. People gain more information about the objects of emotions and thus a better understanding of them. Emotions also provide motivation to act.

Because of all of this, Starkey said that emotions are a large part of what makes up human character.

“This research expands and sharpens our knowledge of human character,” he said. “One benefit is that it may provide new insights into how we can improve ourselves as persons in all walks of life, including our personal lives and our professional careers.”

“The past 30 years have seen a resurgence of interest in character, particularly in the areas of psychology, philosophy and theology,” said Christian Miller, associate professor of philosophy and team leader of The Character Project at Wake Forest. “The goal of The Character Project is to foster new advances in the study of character.”

Researchers involved in The Character Project say that new interventions and programs can be developed to improve human character and better human livelihood.

The Character Project is a three-year initiative supported by a $4.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation with the goal of fostering new advances in the study of character in psychology, philosophy and theology.


Clemson University
Ranked No. 21 among national public universities, Clemson University is a major, land-grant, science- and engineering-oriented research university that maintains a strong commitment to teaching and student success. Clemson is an inclusive, student-centered community characterized by high academic standards, a culture of collaboration, school spirit and a competitive drive to excel.