A bimonthly briefing on the latest in the science and practice of character strengths.
Did you hear the news? The journal, Frontiers in Psychology, dedicated an entire issue to the VIA character strengths. This was, in part, a celebration of the 20-year anniversary of the initial scientific collaborations on character strengths. The special issue offers 15 articles on a range of topics from workplace to virtues to spirituality to practice. The journal is open access so you can read the full PDF of any article you wish. In this issue, I offer highlights, practical applications, and future research directions. -Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA Education Director
NEW RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS
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).
Several studies have now looked at the alignment of character strengths with each of the virtues. Ruch, Heintz, and Wagner (2020) continued this research with over 1,000 individuals and found that 22 of the character strengths correlated with their original virtue in the VIA Classification. The only two exceptions were hope which corresponded best with the courage virtue and humor which corresponded best with the humanity virtue. This replicates earlier findings on these two character strengths.
In a study of 42 teams, those teams with a higher quantity of team roles (out of seven possible team roles), such as idea creator, decision-maker, implementer, etc., had higher performance and teamwork quality. Those teams with higher character strength levels of teamwork and fairness (and those with teams scoring high on prudence and fairness) also had higher teamwork quality (Gander, Gaitzsch, & Ruch, 2020).
In a COVID-19 study during the 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). And, character strengths of restraint, interpersonal, and fortitude predicted a decrease in negative affect (Martinez-Marti et al., 2020).
You’ll also find interesting articles exploring the VIA virtues (Guiliani, Ruch, & Gander, 2020; and McGrath & Brown, 2020), values (Lavy & Benish-Weisman, 2021), person-environment fit with occupations (Gander, Hofmann, & Ruch, 2020), strengths profiles of medical professionals (Huber et al., 2020), domains of life (Wagner, Pindeus, & Ruch, 2021), nondual spirituality (Littman-Ovadia & David), and the mutual integration of spirituality/character strengths (Niemiec, Russo-Netzer, & Pargament, 2020).
There were no randomized intervention studies in the special issue, but one article focused on unifying what is meant by “strengths-based” and “strengths-based practitioner” and delved into character strengths-based interventions. In the article, Niemiec and Pearce (2021) offered an operational definition for these constructs, explained six guiding principles of character strengths, and offered a summary of “character strengths research domains” that are soaring (e.g., workplace; education); emerging (e.g., mindfulness; health/medicine); and ripe with potential (e.g., peace psychology; environmental psychology; spirituality). This framework was also applied to character strengths practices that are soaring, emerging, and ripe with potential. Based on literature reviews, discussions with practitioners across professions across the globe, decades of practice, and a survey of 113 strengths practitioners, the following activities were deemed as “soaring” (see the full article for the other practices and descriptions):
- Prioritize strengths over deficits
- Use the VIA Survey
- Explore and encourage signature strengths
- Engage in strengths-spotting
- Draw the well-being/happiness link with character strengths
STRENGTHS CHECKLIST FOR PRACTITIONERS
FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
Two articles brought careful attention to the importance of advancing the science of character strengths. In the editors’ opening article, they offer the following five considerations for the field:
- Further examination into the character strengths criteria;
- Establish additional, robust, causal links between character strengths and various outcomes (i.e., intervention studies);
- Explore antecedents to character strengths and social/community outcomes of character strengths;
- Examine long-term and short-terms changes in character strengths through multi-level lenses of within-person and between-person factors; and
- Continue to advance the study on the use of character strengths at times of adversity, crisis, trauma, and hardship (Littman-Ovadia, Dubreuil, Meyers, & Freidlin, 2021).
Neal Mayerson’s (2020) article on the “urgent call to action” argued for several areas where character science can deepen its efforts, including:
- Population-wide psychological maturity around building character strengths collectively, especially in response to the exponential growth of technology;
- Thriving (instrumentality, well-being, and collective good);
- Surviving (resilience; modulating fight-or-flight responses);
- System dynamics;
- Interpersonal dynamics;
- Contextualizing character strengths;
- Development across the lifespan (both specific effects and non-linear effects).
Explore all of the articles from the Frontiers special issue on character strengths. Save the link!