Latest Research in the Science of Character Strengths
There are a large number of studies on character strengths published each year, with conservative estimates being at least one per week. This does not include the thousands of studies on specific strengths in the classification such as the various studies on creativity, leadership, gratitude, and so forth. The number of character strengths studies has consistently grown each year since the publication of the VIA Classification a decade and a half-ago. Below are just a handful of highlights of very recent publications.
- In an attempt to bring diffuse terms such as “strengths-based” and “strengths-based practitioner” into greater clarity, to unify strengths-based practitioners across fields, and to offer a bridge for researchers and practitioners, this theory paper offers clarifying operational definitions, six guiding principles, and specificity on character strengths practices that are soaring, emerging, and ripe with potential. This same framing is offered in regard to the current status of the science of character strengths. A survey of 113 strengths-based practitioners is summarized and woven into this discussion (Niemiec and Pearce, 2020).
Niemiec, R. M., & Pearce, R. (2020). The practice of character strengths: Unifying definitions, principles, and exploration of what’s soaring, emerging, and ripe with potential in science and in practice. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.590220
- Argues for advancing population-wide psychological maturity around building character strengths collectively, especially in response to the exponential growth of technology; offers a large number of specific future directions and studies to consider across areas of thriving (instrumentality, well-being, and collective good); surviving (resilience; modulating fight-or-flight responses); child-rearing; system dynamics; interpersonal dynamics; contextualizing character strengths; strengths-spotting; and development across the lifespan (both specific effects and non-linear effects) (Mayerson, 2020).
Mayerson, N. H. (2020). The character strengths response: An urgent call to action. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02106
- Randomly assigned students to one of three groups: a group that reflected on strengths prior to the stress of exams, a group that focused on weaknesses prior to exams, and a group that focused on neutral experiences. The strengths group showed enhanced optimism and prevention of negative emotions and distress (Dolev-Amit, Rubin, & Zilcha-Mano, 2020).
Dolev-Amit, T., Rubin, A., & Zilcha-Mano, S. (2020). Is awareness of strengths intervention sufficient to cultivate wellbeing and other positive outcomes? Journal of Happiness Studies. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00245-5
- Explores how the VIA Classification of character strengths and virtues can advance the science of virtues. It reviews the three-dimensional model of cardinal virtues (moral, self-regulatory, and intellectual domains), dimensional vs. categorical characterization of virtue, evolution of adaptations underlying human capacity for using virtues, impact on both individual and communal levels, reciprocity among virtues, and practical wisdom (McGrath & Brown, 2020).
McGrath, R. E., & Brown, M. (2020). Using the VIA classification to advance a psychological science of virtue. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.565953
- Argues that the VIA Classification represents “the decoding of the human spirit.” It outlines the six levels by which spirituality is already infused within the VIA Classification and offers wholeness as a superordinate virtue therein. Theorizes how the fields of spirituality and character strengths can mutually enhance one another, outlining the grounding path (ways in which character strengths ground and enhance spirituality) and the sanctification path (ways in which spirituality enhances character strengths through the sacred). Concludes with an exploration of five evidence-based practices for each pathway (Niemiec, Russo-Netzer, & Pargament, 2020).
Niemiec, R. M., Russo-Netzer, P., & Pargament, K. I. (2020). The decoding of the human spirit: A synergy of spirituality and character strengths toward wholeness. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02040
- Randomized intervention study in which a new character strengths activity was tested. The intervention involved participants learning about a different character strength each day for 24 days – why the strength was important, a motto for thinking about it, and behavioral strategies to boost it (all material from The Power of Character Strengths by Niemiec & McGrath, 2019). This led to greater happiness scores that sustained at 1-month follow-up (Cherif, Wood, & Watier, 2020).
Cherif, L., Wood, V. M., & Watier, C. (2020). Testing the effectiveness of a strengths-based intervention targeting all 24 strengths: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Psychological Reports. http://doi.org/10.1177/0033294120937441
Niemiec, R. M., & McGrath, R. E. (2019). The power of character strengths: Appreciate and ignite your positive personality. Cincinnati, OH: VIA Institute on Character
- In a study evaluating the 24 character strengths and whether they are morally valued in a German sample, every strength was found to be positively morally valued even when there were no set consequences of the strength use. Some strengths were more morally valued than others with the top five being judgment, honesty, kindness, fairness, and hope (Stahlmann & Ruch, 2020).
Stahlmann, A. G., & Ruch, W. (2020). Scrutinizing the criteria for character strengths: Laypersons assert that every strength is positively morally valued, even in the absence of tangible outcomes. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.591028
- In a study of 42 teams, relationships were found between specific team roles and character strengths to align with performance and work satisfaction. Those teams with more team roles represented on their teams had higher performance and teamwork quality and those teams averaging higher levels of teamwork and fairness (or more members scoring high on prudence and fairness) had higher teamwork quality. No negative effects of having too many team members with one particular character strength were found (Gander, Gaitzsch, & Ruch, 2020).
Gander, F., Gaitzsch, I., & Ruch, W. (2020). The relationships of team role-and character strengths-balance with individual and team-level satisfaction and performance. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.566222
- In a study during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Spain, all character strengths groupings/factors predicted an increase in mental health and positive emotions (with the exception of strengths of restraint for the latter outcome). Character strengths of restraint, interpersonal, and fortitude predicted a decrease in negative affect (Martinez-Marti et al., 2020).
Martinez-Marti, M. L., Theirs, C., I., Pascual, D., & Corradi, G. (2020). Character strengths predict an increase in mental health and subjective well-being over a one-month period during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.584567
- Reviews the character strengths profiles of medical professionals showing that the highest means among samples of medical students and physicians were fairness, honesty, judgment, kindness, and love, and when comparing specialties, general surgeons had higher levels of honesty and prudence than psychiatrists (Huber et al., 2020).
Huber, A., Strecker, C., Kachel, T., Hoge, T., & Hofer, S. (2020). Character strengths profiles in medical professionals and their impact on well-being. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.566728
Updated May 2021