In the News – Being good for goodness’ sake — and your own

Dorota Węziak-Białowolska of SHINE and Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program was interviewed by the Harvard Gazette about our recent study exploring the role of character in physical and mental health.  The research team – Weziak-Bialowolska, Matthew T. Lee, Piotr Bialowolski, Ying Chen, Tyler J. VanderWeele and Eileen McNeely – found that acting with high moral character is associated with a lower risk of depression — and may have cardiovascular benefits as well.

Being good for goodness’ sake — and your own

Research finds health benefits in high moral character


Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska

GAZETTE: What is moral character?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: We define it as adherence to high standards of moral behaviors and acting in a way which contributes to the good of oneself and others. So it’s reflected in excellent character, but also in an orientation to promote good and engaging in good deeds, even in difficult or challenging situations.

GAZETTE: How did you measure character?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: We asked people to assess themselves in five dimensions: “I always act to promote good in all circumstances, even in difficult and challenging situations”; “I always know what is the right thing to do”; “I always treat everyone with kindness”; “I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later”; and “I use my strength to help others.”

GAZETTE: Wouldn’t everyone answer these questions to make themselves look good?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: You’ll notice we didn’t ask directly: “Are you a good person?” The overall well-being assessment consists of 40 items, and we collected this data in two waves, so we were able to account for reporting bias. Especially when you do a longitudinal study, you account for this bias because it’s present always.

Read the full interview here.