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

  • 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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
  • 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: 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).
    Reference: Steen, T. A., Kachorek, L. V., & Peterson, C. (2003). Character strengths among youth. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 32 (1), 5-16.

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