Character Strengths, Character Building Experts | VIA Institute

Movies and related media provide a powerful and inspiring mechanism by which any person can view any of the 24 character strengths in action. Some of our most memorable role models and examples of positive character can be seen in film. While the use of movies in education, therapy/counseling, and other contexts has been discussed for over three decades in the literature, experimental studies are comparatively infrequent, as are theoretical explorations of character strengths in film.

Research Articles

  • Thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews of working professionals who had also taken the VIA Survey. Examined how movies transport the viewer into the narrative, facilitating identification with the core character(s) who are exhibiting character strengths. This study shows the important role that movies can play to build viewer’s character strengths (Sridharan, 2018).
    Sridharan, G. (2018). Building character strength through movies. Unpublished manuscript.
  • This study showed that cinematic portrayals of strengths such as love and kindness elicit the emotion of elevation. Elevation explained the relationship between meaningful films and feelings of connectedness with the transcendent, with close others, and with family, compassionate love toward close others and motivation to love and be good to humanity.
    Janicke, S. H., & Oliver, M. B. (2017). The relationship between elevation, connectedness, and compassionate love in meaningful films. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 6, 274-289. DOI:
  • Study showing that the viewing of positive psychology movies led to an increase in positive characteristics and positive behaviors.
    Smithikrai, C. (2016). Effectiveness of teaching with movies to promote positive characteristics and behaviors. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 522-530.
  • Coins the terms “cinematic elevation” and “cinematic admiration” and to refer to processes by which positive movies can inspire goodness or motivation by means of character strengths use. Each shows how the viewer’s response is related to the core processes of an emotion. For example, the three parts of cinematic elevation include: a.) the observation of a character using one of the 24 character strengths; b.) the physiological response in the viewer, such as a tingling in the extremities or a warming in the chest; c.) motivation toward altruism, doing good, using character strengths to benefit others (Niemiec, 2012).
    Niemiec, R. M. (2012, summer). Cinematic elevation and cinematic admiration: Can watching movies positively impact you? Amplifier, issue 4, 10-11. Available here.
  • First publication to integrate the science of positive psychology and the media. This book uses 1,500 films to portray the 24 character strengths and various areas of well-being such as mindfulness, resilience, meaning, and relationships. The 2008 edition introduces the concept of cinematic elevation while the 2014 edition adds the concept of cinematic admiration (Niemiec & Wedding, 2014).
    Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2014). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build character strengths and well-being (2nd edition). Boston: Hogrefe.