VIA Character Strengths In Positive Education (And Children/Youth)

Summary of Research Findings

In addition to the work domain, the vast field of education has found enormous benefit to teaching students, teachers, trainers, and entire schools on become more character strengths-based. The new science of character that has emerged in the last 10 years offers a significant change to traditional approaches to character education in schools (Linkins, Niemiec, Gilham, & Mayerson, 2014). Research Articles

  • 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.
  • A 3-week intervention on strengths-based parenting involved teaching parents how to identify and cultivate strengths in themselves and in their children. In comparison with a waitlist control group, the strengths-based intervention group showed increases in positive emotions when thinking about their children and higher levels of self-efficacy (Waters & Sun, 2017).
    Waters, L., & Sun, J. (2017). Can a brief strength-based parenting intervention boost self-efficacy and positive emotions in parents? International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology. DOI: DOI 10.1007/s41042-017-0007-x
  • Strengths-based parenting was found to relate significantly to strengths-based coping in children and negatively to stress levels. It is suggested that strengths-based parenting encourages children to use more strengths-based coping when they face stress and adversity, which partially explains these beneficial outcomes (Waters, 2015).
    Waters, L. (2015). The relationship between strength-based parenting with children’s stress levels and strength-based coping approaches. Psychology, 6, 689-699.
  • Strengths-based parenting is significantly connected with life satisfaction in adolescents. Strengths-based parenting contributes to teenager life satisfaction above and beyond the benefits of authoritative parenting, and strengths-based parenting predicted life satisfaction in teenagers one year later. Parent awareness of their teen’s strengths and encouragement of strengths use explained teenagers’ life satisfaction beyond the teenagers’ own awareness and use (Waters, 2015).
    Waters, L. (2015). Strength-based parenting and life satisfaction in teenagers. Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal, 2(11), 158-173.  DOI:10.14738/assrj.211.1651158B173.
  • 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:  
  • 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:  
  • 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: 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:  
  • 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: /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



Updated 4/26/2018





Discover the Good in You

Take the Free VIA Survey