Summary of Research Findings
- Generally speaking, character education programs continue to be unclear and ill-defined. This paper uses recent literature to offer a prototype of seven features by which character education programs might be evaluated and discussed (McGrath, in press).
McGrath, R. E. (in press). What is character education? Development of a prototype. Journal of Character Education.
- Outlines an integrative model for the optimal school system that fosters character strengths use and development and as positively affecting students (through positive relationships and curricula), teachers (through training and supervision), and entire schools (through evaluation processes and resource allocation). Offers the relationship of character strengths to 21st century competencies as identified by the American National Research Council for thriving in life and work (Lavy, 2018).
Lavy, S. (2018). A review of character strengths interventions in 21st-century schools: Their importance and how they can be fostered. Applied Research in Quality of Life.
- In a study of character strengths and adolescent peer relationships, the strengths deemed most desirable/important in a friend were honesty, humor, kindness, and fairness, and those most connected with higher peer acceptance were perspective, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, leadership, and humor (Wagner, 2018).
Wagner, L. (2018). Good character is what we look for in a friend: Character strengths are positively related to peer acceptance and friendship quality in early adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence. DOI: 10.1177/0272431618791286
- A program to boost character strengths, positive emotions, and optimal experiences was tested on 9th grade adolescents. Elevations in self-esteem and life satisfaction, with stronger effects for girls, all relative to a comparison group, were found (Freire et al., 2018).
Freire, T., Lima, I., Teixeira, A., Araújo, M. R., & Machado, A. (2018). Challenge: To be+. A group intervention program to promote the positive development of adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 87, 173-185. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.02.035
- Among a diverse sample of thousands of youth between ages 9-19, researchers found character structure becomes more differentiated as youth develop into adolescence (Shubert et al., 2018).
Shubert, J., Wray‐Lake, L., Syvertsen, A. K., & Metzger, A. (2018). Examining character structure and function across childhood and adolescence. Child Development. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13035
- Argues for the importance of elements of character (i.e., inquisitiveness and self-control character strengths) as indicators of “character” even when they are not used to support moral ends (as long as they don’t support immoral ends). Emphasizes that character education programs should account for how character strengths can lead to nonmoral decision-making when environmental factors are encouraging poor choices (McGrath, 2017).
McGrath, R. E. (2017). The essentials and complexities of character: Reflections on Nucci’s multi-faceted model. Journal of Character Education, 13(1), 27-32.
- In the school context, a tripartite structure for character was noted (intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal character strengths), resembling what has been found among adults who take the VIA Survey. Interpersonal strengths predicted positive peer relations and intrapersonal strengths predicted report card grades, while intellectual strengths predicted class participation (Park et al., 2017).
Park, D., Tsukayama, E., Goodwin, G. P., Patrick, S., & Duckworth, A. L. (2017). A tripartite taxonomy of character: Evidence for intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual competencies in children. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 48, 16-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2016.08.001
- Discusses practical applications of the Happy Classrooms Program which integrates character strengths, mindfulness, and other areas of positive psychology (Alzina & Paniello, 2017).
Alzina, R. B., & Paniello, S. H. (2017). Psicología positiva, educación emocional y el Programa Aulas Felices [Positive psychology, emotional education and the Happy Classrooms Program]. Papeles del Psicólogo, 38(1), 58-65. http://dx.doi.org/10.23923/pap.psicol2017.2822
- Using data from four studies evaluating youth character strengths in different settings, researchers examined youth from ages 7 to 26, with particular emphasis on the strength of hope (Callina et al., 2017).
Callina, K. S., Johnson, S. K., Tirrell, J. M., Batanova, M., Weiner, M. B., & Lerner, R. M. (2017). Modeling pathways of character development across the first three decades of life: An application of integrative data analysis techniques to understanding the development of hopeful future expectations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(6), 1216-1237. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0660-1
- Presents the process and adaptation of the VIA Youth Survey for adolescents in Argentina, including reliability, construct validity, and exploratory factor analyses (Raimundi et al., 2017).
Raimundi, M. J., Molina, M. F., Hernández-Mendo, A., & Schmidt, V. (2017). Adaptación Argentina del Inventario de Fortalezas en Adolescentes (VIA-Youth): Propiedades Psicométricas y Alternativas para su Factorización [Argentinean adaptation of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth): Psychometric properties and alternatives for its factoring]. Revista Iberoamericana de Diagnóstico y Evaluación Psicologica, 45(3), 159-174. http://dx.doi.org/10.21865/RIDEP45.3.13
- Reviews the literature on character development in schools, finding 42 evidence-based practices. They categorized these into 6 overarching categories: prioritization, relationships, intrinsic motivation, role models, pedagogy of empowerment, and developmental pedagogy (Berkowitz, Bier, & McCauley, 2017).
Berkowitz, M. W., Bier, M. C., & McCauley, B. (2017). Toward a science of character education: Frameworks for identifying and implementing effective practices. Journal of Character Education, 13(1), 33-51.
- In addition to discussing the adaptation and application of mindfulness and character strengths for parents and teachers helping children, a study conducted by Children Inc. is reported here that replicated data of Park and Peterson (2006) on the top character strengths in very young children, as discovered through analyses of parent interviews. Those top strengths include (in descending order): love, kindness, curiosity, humor, perseverance, creativity, love of learning, social intelligence, and bravery (Lottman, Zawaly, & Niemiec, 2017).
Lottman, T., Zawaly, S., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Well-being and well-doing: Bringing mindfulness and character strengths to the early childhood classroom and home. In C. Proctor (Ed.), Positive psychology interventions in practice (pp. 83-105). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
- Longitudinal study of character and purpose development using survey and interview data from middle school students. The three character strengths studied (gratitude, perseverance, and compassion) showed small but significant correlations with purpose. The researchers argue for a study of the multidirectional development relationships for different character strengths (Malin, Liauw, & Damon, 2017).
Malin, H., Liauw, I., & Damon, W. (2017). Purpose and character development in early adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Np. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0642-3
- In a study of 196 children taking the VIA Youth Survey, zest, love of learning, perseverance, and social intelligence showed the strongest positive relations to school-related positive affect while teamwork, hope, self-regulation, and love showed the strongest negative correlations with negative affect at school. Character strengths also showed an important relationship to school achievement (Weber, Wagner, & Ruch, 2016).
Weber, M., Wagner, L., & Ruch, W. (2016). Positive feelings at school: On the relationships between students’ character strengths, school-related affect, and school functioning. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17, 341-355. doi:10.1007/s10902-014-9597-1
- Discusses a comprehensive character strengths program (Thriving Learning Communities) being implemented in various public schools, and strategies for the gifted classroom setting to apply, balance, and appropriately match character strengths in the right situation (Bates-Krakoff, McGrath, Graves, & Ochs, 2016).
Bates-Krakoff, J., McGrath, R. E., Graves, K., & Ochs, L. (2016). Beyond a deficit model of strengths training in schools: Teaching targeted strength use to gifted students. Gifted Education International. DOI: 10.1177/0261429416646210
- Study of a hope intervention at a camp for children exposed to domestic violence and found hope and character strengths to not only be positively correlated but to improve following the intervention. Other character strengths included zest, perseverance, gratitude, self-regulation, social intelligence, and curiosity (Hellman & Gwinn, 2016).
Hellman, C. M., & Gwinn, C. (2016). Camp hope as an intervention for children exposed to domestic violence: A program evaluation of hope, and strength of character. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal. Np. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10560-016-0460-6
- Reviews specific, successful, and brief positive psychology interventions around strengths, gratitude, mindfulness, and positive relationships for benefiting student learning and well-being (Shankland & Rosset, 2016).
Shankland, R., & Rosset, E. (2016). Review of brief school-based positive psychological interventions: A taster for teachers and educators. Educational Psychology Review. Np. DOI: 10.1007/s10648-016-9357-3
- Several publications present perspective on the integration of character strengths and the field of positive humanities, such as children’s literature (Showalter, 2016) and especially into school curriculum, such as literature classes (FitzSimons, 2015) and poetry in foreign language classes (Piasecka, 2016).
FitzSimons, E. (2015). Character education: A role for literature in cultivating character strengths in adolescence. In M. A. White, & S. A. Murray (Eds.), Evidence-based approaches in positive education: Implementing a strategic framework for well-being in schools (pp. 135-150). New York, NY: Springer. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9667-5_7 Piasecka, L. (2016). Activating character strengths through poetic encounters in a foreign language—A case study. In D. Gabryś-Barker, & D. Gałajda (Eds.). (2016). Positive psychology perspectives on foreign language learning and teaching (pp. 75-92). Cham, Switzerland: Springer. Showalter, R. A. (2016). Virtue and vice in children's literature: A content analysis of best-selling American picture books. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 76(10-B(E)), Np.
- Investigated several VIA character strengths and parenting in Hong Kong, finding significant positive effects for parental care and negative effects for parental control on honesty/authenticity, bravery, perseverance, kindness, love, social intelligence, fairness and self-regulation (Ngai, 2015).
Ngai, S. S. Y. (2015). Parental bonding and character strengths among Chinese adolescents in Hong Kong. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 20(3), 317-333. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02673843.2015.1007879
- Eighth grade students participating in an intervention program involving five, 1-hour character strengths classroom activities had significant benefits to well-being compared to those in a comparison group (Oppenheimer et al., 2014).
Oppenheimer, M. F., Fialkov, C., Ecker, B., & Portnoy, S. (2014). Teaching to strengths: Character education for urban middle school students. Journal of Character Education, 10(2), 91-105.
- Examines four types of “class clown” behaviors and character strengths profiles therein. In general, class clowns were higher in humor and leadership (75% had humor as a signature strength) and lower in prudence, self-regulation, humility, honesty, fairness, perseverance, and love of learning (Ruch, Platt, & Hofmann, 2014).
Ruch, W., F., Platt, T., & Hofmann, J. (2014). The character strengths of class clowns. Frontiers in Psychology.
- Flagship article on VIA in education arguing for a more individualized approach to the application of character strengths in education as differentiated from monolithic and one-size-fits-all (traditional) approaches to character that predominate both past and present. Presents research-based strengths practices for classrooms, schools, and educators (Linkins, Niemiec, Gillham, & Mayerson, 2014).
Linkins, M., Niemiec, R. M., Gillham, J., & Mayerson, D. (2014). Through the lens of strength: A framework for educating the heart. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.888581
- Examined a 6-session, character strengths program for 9-12 year-olds in a classroom setting compared with non-randomized controls. After 3 months, the strengths group scored significantly higher on class cohesion and relatedness need satisfaction and lower on class friction, in addition to higher positive emotion, classroom engagement, and strengths use (Quinlan, Swain, Cameron, & Vella-Brodrick, 2014).
Quinlan, D. M., Swain, N., Cameron, C., & Vella-Brodrick, D.A. (2014). How ‘other people matter’ in a classroom-based strengths intervention: Exploring interpersonal strategies and classroom outcomes. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.920407
- Reviewed 13 school intervention programs that are based in character strengths and summarized the interventions as helping to improve school performance, decrease bad classroom behavior, and enhance social relationships and academic motivation (Grinhauz & Castro Solano, 2014).
Grinhauz, A. S., & Castro Solano, A. (2014). A review of school intervention programs based on character strengths. Acta Psiquiátrica y Psicológica de América Latina, 60(2), 121-129.-
- Describes 5 character strengths initiatives woven into a large school (K-12), involving strengths in sport, student leadership, counseling, and English curriculum (White & Waters, 2014).
White, M. A., & Waters, L. E. (2014). A case study of ‘The Good School:’ Examples of use of Peterson’s strengths-based approach with students. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.920408
- Longitudinal study revealing character virtues stability over three years for children between the ages of 12 and 14. Overall the virtues were stable across the three years with a slight increase in the virtues of humanity and justice, and girls scored higher than boys across the six VIA virtues over three assessment periods (Ferragut, Blanca, & Ortiz-Tallo, 2014).
Ferragut, M., Blanca, M. J., & Ortiz-Tallo, M. (2014). Psychological virtues during adolescence: A longitudinal study of gender differences. European Journal of Development Psychology. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.108 /17405629.2013.876403
- High poverty, high performing adolescents from 3 urban schools experienced a focus on "performance character" or "moral character." A moral character focus led to significantly higher levels of integrity while performance character focus led to significantly higher levels of perseverance and community connectedness (Seider, Novick, & Gomez, 2013).
Seider, S., Novick, S., & Gomez, J. (2013). The effects of privileging moral or performance character development in urban adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 33 (6), 786-820.
- In a longitudinal study of adolescent’ transition to middle school, intellectual and temperance strengths predicted school performance and achievement, interpersonal strengths related to school social functioning, and temperance and transcendence strengths predicted well-being (Shoshani & Slone, 2012).
Shoshani, A., & Slone, M. (2012). Middle school transition from the strengths perspective: Young adolescents’ character strengths, subjective well-being, and school adjustment. Journal of Happiness Studies.
- In a study of children’s adjustment to first grade, parents’ intellectual, interpersonal, and temperance strengths related to their child’s school adjustment, while the children’s intellectual, interpersonal, temperance, and transcendence strengths related to first-grade adjustment (Shoshani & Ilanit Aviv, 2012).
Shoshani, A., & Ilanit Aviv, I. (2012). The pillars of strength for first-grade adjustment – Parental and children's character strengths and the transition to elementary school. Journal of Positive Psychology, 7 (4), 315-326.
- In a study of adolescents’ character strengths and career/vocational interests, intellectual strengths were related to investigative and artistic career interests, transcendence and other-oriented strengths were related to social career interests, and leadership strengths were associated with enterprising career interests (Proyer, Sidler, Weber, & Ruch, 2012).
Proyer, R. T., Sidler, N., Weber, M., & Ruch, W. (2012). A multi-method approach to studying the relationship between character strengths and vocational interests in adolescents. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 12 (2), 141-157.
- In a study of adolescent romantic relationships, honesty, humor, and love were the most preferred character strengths in an ideal partner (Weber & Ruch, 2012a).
Weber, M., & Ruch, W. (2012a). The role of character strengths in adolescent romantic relationships: An initial study on partner selection and mates’ life satisfaction. Journal of Adolescence.
- Character strengths of the mind (e.g., self-regulation, perseverance, love of learning) were predictive of school success (Weber & Ruch, 2012b).
Weber, M., & Ruch, W. (2012b). The role of a good character in 12-year-old school children: Do character strengths matter in the classroom? Child Indicators Research, 5 (2), 317-334.
- In a study of the VIA Youth Survey, five strengths factors emerged and were independently associated with well-being and happiness (Toner, Haslam, Robinson, & Williams, 2012).
Toner, E., Haslam, N., Robinson, J., & Williams, P. (2012). Character strengths and wellbeing in adolescence: Structure and correlates of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Children. Personality and Individual Differences, 52 (5), 637-642.
- A study of 319 adolescent students between the ages of 12-14 were divided into two groups in which 2/3 received character strengths-builder activities and strengths challenges within the school curriculum (called Strengths Gym), and 1/3 did not; those who participated in strengths experienced increased in life satisfaction compared to the controls (Proctor et al., 2011).
Proctor, C., Tsukayama, E., Wood, A., M., Maltby, J., Fox Eades, J., & Linley, P. A. (2011). Strengths gym: The impact of a character strengths-based intervention on the life satisfaction and well-being of adolescents. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6 (5), 377-388.
- Among high school students, other-oriented strengths (e.g., kindness, teamwork) predicted fewer depression symptoms while transcendence strengths (e.g., spirituality) predicted greater life satisfaction (Gillham et al., 2011).
Gillham, J., Adams-Deutsch, Z., Werner, J., Reivich, K., Coulter-Heindl, V., Linkins, M., Winder, B., Peterson, C., Park, N., Abenavoli, R., Contero, A., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Character strengths predict subjective well-being during adolescence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6 (1), 31-44.
- Reviews exercises and examples of applying siganture strengths in classroom work, classroom management, and curriculum, e.g., in art, history, language arts, transitions, service, and community (Molony & Henwood, 2010).
Molony, T., & Henwood, M. (2010). Signature strengths in positive psychology. Communique, 38 (8), 15-16.
- Positive education programming which heavily involves character strengths assessment and intervention led to improved student school skills and greater student enjoyment and engagement in school (e.g., improved curiosity, love of learning, and creativity; Seligman et al., 2009).
Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35 (3), 293-311.
- Among a Chinese sample, teachers high in zest, hope, and emotional strengths tended to experience more positive emotion, greater life satisfaction, and less negative emotions (Chan, 2009).
Chan, D. W. (2009). The hierarchy of strengths: Their relationships with subjective wellbeing among Chinese teachers in Hong Kong. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25 (6), 867-875.
- The most prevalent character strengths in very young children are love, kindness, creativity, curiosity, and humor (Park & Peterson, 2006a).
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006a). Character strengths and happiness among young children: Content analysis of parental descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 323-341.
- When compared with U.S. adults, youth from the U.S. are higher on the character strengths of hope, teamwork, and zest and adults are higher on appreciation of beauty & excellence, honesty, leadership, open-mindedness (Park & Peterson, 2006b).
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006b). Moral competence and character strengths among adolescents: The development and validation of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth. Journal of Adolescence, 29, 891-905.
- Convergence of strengths between parents and child are modest except for spirituality where it is substantial (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Character strengths with a developmental trajectory (least common in youth and increase over time through cognitive maturation) are appreciation of beauty & excellence, forgiveness, modesty, open-mindedness (Park & Peterson, 2006a; 2006b).
1. Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006a). Character strengths and happiness among young children: Content analysis of parental descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 323-341. 2. Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006b). Moral competence and character strengths among adolescents: The development and validation of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth. Journal of Adolescence, 29, 891-905.
- Focus groups with 459 high school students from 20 high schools found that students largely believe the 24 VIA strengths are acquired and that the strengths develop through ongoing experience, the students cited minimal character strength role models, and they particularly valued the strengths of love of learning, perspective, love, social intelligence, leadership, and spirituality (Steen, Kachorek, & Peterson, 2003).
Steen, T. A., Kachorek, L. V., & Peterson, C. (2003). Character strengths among youth. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 32 (1), 5-16.
Positive Education with Character Strengths