Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character

Project Co-Leaders:
Dr. Eranda Jayawickreme and Dr. Michael Lamb
Wake Forest University

Is it possible to develop our character by emulating role models or exemplars? Can narratives of moral exemplars play a unique role in shaping specific character virtues? Can academic institutions employ exemplar interventions to promote moral development among their students? These questions animate our network project, “Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character.”

We believe that a significant gap exists between what we know generally about the theoretical and pedagogical value of exemplars and what we know specifically and practically about how they can promote character virtues. Integrating insights from philosophy, psychology, theology, literature, and education, the project aims to provide a strong foundation for exemplar interventions by examining three questions:

  1. Which psychological and pedagogical mechanisms influence the impact of exemplars?
  2. Which types of exemplars are most effective for developing specific character virtues?
  3. How can scholarly research on exemplars be translated into effective exemplar interventions?

This project aims to provide concrete answers to these questions through a network of multi-site studies that seek insights on how exemplar interventions work for which virtues under what conditions. These studies will do the following:

  • We will analyze key mechanisms in the use of exemplars among middle and high school students and college students, while exploring how a university program can provide evidence for the successful design and dissemination of exemplar-based character education. This will enable us to test the impact of exemplar interventions across different developmental stages.
  • We will examine how varying the content of exemplar narratives may help to promote specific character virtues, particularly in the wake of adversity.
  • We will examine the psychological, literary, and spiritual functions of exemplars narratives across different genres, including spiritual literature, novels, fables, and fairy tales.

We would like to offer a special thanks to the John Templeton Foundation for supporting this research. This project’s core goal of promoting character virtues through exemplars aligns squarely with Sir John Templeton’s concern for fostering character virtues through engagement with moral exemplars. The opinions expressed in this project are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more about the John Templeton Foundation here.

For more details about each project, click here.

For a list of research collaborators and board of advisors, click here.

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