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Summary of Research Findings

The use of character strengths to impact human suffering is an area of study that is grossly lacking. It seems that all “positive psychologists” are in agreement that research and practice should not only help people use their strengths to become stronger but also to find ways to use their strengths to improve upon or better manage “what is wrong.”

Research Articles

  • In a controlled study of Filipino students during the adversity of the COVID-19 pandemic, students conducting character strengths interventions (i.e., kindness or gratitude) had significantly higher positive emotions than those in the control group (Datu et al., 2021).
    Datu, J. A., D., Valdez, J. M., McInerney, D. M., & Cayubit, R. F. (2021). The effects of gratitude and kindness on life satisfaction, positive emotions, negative emotions, and COVID-19 anxiety: An online pilot experimental study. Applied Psychology Health and Well-Being.
  • In a study of 617 adolescents, character strengths served as a protective factor moderated the relationship between COVID-19 stress and depression symptoms (Liu & Wang, 2021).
    Liu, Q., & Wang, Z. (2021). Perceived stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and adolescents' depression symptoms: The moderating role of character strengths. Personality and Individual Differences, 182, 111062.
  • This case study weaves character strengths into addiction recovery revealing the importance of helping people identify and appreciate their character strengths in the recovery process and ways to use them to boost well-being during recovery; activities involved identifying character strengths in the recovery process, determining signature through the VIA Survey, and exploration/reflection activities integrating character strengths in recovery (Ogilvie, 2022).
    Ogilvie, L. (2022). The values in action character strengths model in addiction recovery: a case study. Advances in Dual Diagnosis.
  • This study examined and found a large number of connections between character strengths, resilience, and flourishing among 642 university students. Examples include character strengths as having a direct effect on resilience and flourishing, character strengths explained 42% of the variance of stress tolerance, total resilience was most significantly predicted positively by zest, bravery, fairness, and self-regulation, and the most significant negative predictor of total flourishing was appreciation of beauty, among other findings (de la Fuente et al., 2022).
    de la Fuente, J., Urien, B., Luis, E. O., González-Torres, M. C., Artuch-Garde, R., & Balaguer, A. (2022). The proactive-reactive resilience as a mediational variable between the character strength and the flourishing in undergraduate students. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 856558.
  • A randomized study in China compared a character strengths-based intervention and a group counseling intervention on mental health outcomes among students. Both interventions showed an increase in post-traumatic growth and well-being but not depression. The character strengths group scored significantly higher on post-traumatic growth than the counseling group (Yu et al., 2022).
    Yu, Y., Chotipanvihayakul, R., Wichaidit, W., & Cai, W. (2022). Effects of character strength-based intervention vs group counseling on post-traumatic growth, well-being, and depression among university students during the COVID-19 pandemic in Guangdong, China: A non-inferiority trial. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 15, 1517-1529.
  • This paper discusses ways in which positive psychology factors can buffer mental illness and bolster mental health during COVID-19 while broadening positive capacities. Core themes include character strengths, meaning, self-compassion, high-quality connections, and more (Waters et al., 2021).
    Waters, L., Algoe, S. B., Dutton, J., Emmons, R., Fredrickson, B. L., Heaphy, E., Moskowitz, J. T., Neff, K., Niemiec, R. M., Pury, C., & Steger, M. (2021). Positive psychology in a pandemic: Buffering, bolstering, and building mental health. Journal of Positive Psychology.
  • A large longitudinal study across three time points examined adults who had and had not experienced a recent loss (death of a first degree relative or divorce in the previous six months) and found character strengths were stable over time (except for curiosity which decreased). Hope, zest, gratitude, curiosity, love, spirituality, and perseverance were associated with lower depression and impairment, while individuals with higher levels of perseverance, zest, prudence, self-regulation, and social intelligence had less impairment than those with lower levels of these strengths. Those who experienced loss showed, on average, higher levels of gratitude and hope than those without a loss (Blanchard, McGrath, & Jayawickreme, 2021).
    Blanchard, T. McGrath, R. E., & Jayawickreme (2021). Resilience in the face of interpersonal loss: The role of character strengths. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
  • A study of 243 bereaved individuals discovered a number of unique character strengths connections with posttraumatic growth in the coping with adversity, finding strength links with the search for new experiences and pleasure, search for knowledge, seeking safety, healthy self-care, and prioritizing values (Couto et al., 2021)
    Couto, R. N., da Fonsêca, P. N., de Medeiros, E. D., & da Silva, P. G. N. (2021). Personality, values, and character strengths: Contributions to positive changes in bereavement. Trends in Psychology, 29, 490-504.
  • An Italian study during COVID in 2020 found that character strengths (as a whole) had a significant direct effect on both mental health and posttraumatic growth; in addition the virtue of transcendence was uniquely related to mental health while the virtue of humanity was uniquely related to posttraumatic growth (Casali, Feraco, & Meneghetti, 2021).
    Casali, N., Feraco, T., & Meneghetti, C. (2021). Character strengths sustain mental health and post-traumatic growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. A longitudinal analysis. Psychology and Health.
  • A Greek study during COVID found that the character strengths of love, curiosity, perseverance, hope, and zest were associated with well-being during quarantine (Vasileiou et al., 201).
    Vasileiou, D., Moraitou, D., Papaliagkas, V., Pezirkianidis, C., Stalikas, A., Papantoniou, G., & Sofologi, M. (2021). The relationships between character strengths and subjective wellbeing: Evidence from Greece under lockdown during COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18.
  • In a study of undergraduate business students, character had a direct effect on well-being and an indirect effect on perceived stressfulness of life events (Seijts et al., 2021).
    Seijts, G. H., Monzani, L., Woodley, H. J. R., & Mohan, G. (2021). The effects of character on the perceived stressfulness of life events and subjective well-being of undergraduate business students. Journal of Management Education.
  • A study of hundreds of Chinese nurses found that strengths use was connected with psychological needs satisfaction and negatively connected with depression symptoms; strengths use influenced depression through mechanisms of autonomy and relatedness needs satisfaction (Bai, Bai, & Kong, 2021).
    Bai, C., Bai, B., & Kong, F. (2021). Strength use and nurses' depressive symptoms: The mediating role of basic psychological needs satisfaction. Journal of Nursing Management.
  • Fascinating study examining daily symptoms and situational responses using experience-sampling methods in people diagnosed with anxiety/depression. Character strengths were linked with more adaptive responses for individuals during their worst days, best days, and worst events, as well as buffered against stress perceptions. Another finding was that inquisitiveness character strengths predicted higher symptoms (Sivaratnam, Cabano, & Erickson, 2021).
    Sivaratnam, J., Cabano, E. M. P., & Erickson, T. M. (2021). Character virtues prospectively predict responses to situational stressors in daily life in clinical and subclinical samples. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping.
  • This study found support for using the VIA Survey along with another measure in assessing individuals diagnosed with substance use disorder in a forensic residential treatment facility (Sargent & Valdes, 2021).
    Sargent, J., & Valdes, K. (2021). Use of occupation-based outcome measure and strength-based self-report with persons with substance use disorders: A Prospective cohort study. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 37(3).
  • Study showing that character strengths predict anxiety symptoms.
    Mezo, P. G., & Elhai, J. D. (2021). Character strengths as complementary predictors of anxiety symptoms. Applied Research Quality Life, 16, 2173–2183.
  • In a study of military cadets, the strengths considered to be most important for bouncing back from stressors were perseverance, judgment, teamwork, perspective, and self-regulation, while the most frequently endorsed character strengths were bravery, honesty, and perseverance (Cherif, Wood, & Wilkin, 2020).
    Cherif, L., Wood, V. M., & Wilkin, M. M. (2020). An investigation of the character strengths and resilience of future military leaders. Journal of Wellness, 3(1).
  • This study used the VIA Survey and a number of additional scales with a focus on the character strength of social intelligence. Social intelligence was significantly related to life satisfaction and positive affect and negatively associated with negative affect, with significant indirect effects on psychopathology symptoms and psychological distress (Azañedo et al., 2020).
    Azañedo, C. M., Sastre, S., Artola, T., Alvarado, J. M., & Jiménez-Blanco, A. (2020). Social intelligence and psychological distress: Subjective and psychological well-being as mediators. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21).
  • Reviews a myriad of ways to use character strengths at difficult times for boosting coping skills and reappraising challenges, particularly during pandemics/COVID-19 (Rashid & McGrath, 2020).
    Rashid, T., & McGrath, R. E. (2020). Strengths-based actions to enhance wellbeing in the time of COVID19. International Journal of Wellbeing, 10(4), 113-132.
  • In an Italian study during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the character strengths of hope, zest, prudence, love, and forgiveness were most negatively associated with distress while appreciation of beauty/excellence was significantly positively related to distress. In addition, love and zest were most connect to self-efficacy; and zest with general mental health (Casali et al., 2020).
    Casali, N., Feraco, T., Ghisi, M., & Meneghetti, C. (2020). “andrà tutto bene”: Associations between character strengths, psychological distress and self-efficacy during covid-19 lockdown. Journal of Happiness Studies. Advance online publication.
  • 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.
  • Early childhood educators were taught to write action plans using character strengths to address personal challenges/adversities with children, co-workers, and parents, and 71% reported they fully or mostly resolved their challenges using this method while 22% reported partial success with this approach. This character strengths approach made it more likely the teachers would model or teach character strengths to children, especially kindness, forgiveness, social intelligence, and teamwork (Haslip & Donaldson, 2020).
    Haslip, M. J., & Donaldson, L. (2020). How early childhood educators resolve workplace challenges using character strengths and model character for children in the process. Early Childhood Education Journal. Advance online publication.
  • Across 5776 individuals, this study categorized three groups – a strengths group (relatively high on the VIA 3-factor virtues of self-control and inquisitiveness), a common group (relatively high on the VIA 3-factor virtue of caring), and a risk group (relatively high on the VIA 3-factor virtue of self-control). The former group had the highest strength knowledge and use while the latter had the least on both (Duan et al., 2020).
    Duan, W., Qi, B., Sheng, J., & Wang, Y. (2020). Latent character strength profile and grouping effects. Social Indicators Research, 147, 345-359.
  • In a sample of older adults, character strengths were associated with low levels of suicidal ideation thus representing a strong buffering, or protective effect (Cheng et al., 2020).
    Cheng, X., Bu, H., Duan, W., He, A., & Zhang Y. (2020). Measuring character strengths as possible protective factors against suicidal ideation in older Chinese adults: A cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 20. DOI:
  • In a study of 2,000 Japanese adults on suicidal ideation and character strengths, love and engagement were significant predictors of suicidal ideation indicating that building loving relationships and active engagement in the world might be important protective factors for suicide (Sueki, 2020).
    Sueki, H. (2020). What character strengths are protective factors for suicidal ideation?: A cross-sectional study in japan. Psychology, Health & Medicine. Advance online publication.
  • Makes the argument that a focus on character strengths should be included as an important part of the treatment of people with the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (Asbenson, 2020).
    Asbenson, A. (2020). Using positive psychology to treat anorexia nervosa. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 81(6-B).
  • A study in the UK found strengths use moderated the relationship between paranoia and life satisfaction; and strengths use was positively associated with life satisfaction and positive self-beliefs (McTiernan, Gullon-Scott, & Dudley, 2020).
    McTiernan, K., Gullon-Scott, F. & Dudley, R. (2020). An exploration of strength use and its relationship with life satisfaction, positive self-beliefs and paranoid ideation. International Journal of Wellbeing, 10(2), 53-70.
  • In a review of research on first-episode psychosis, character strengths are highlighted as a key area and are potentially associated with eudaimonic (meaning-based) well-being (Gleeson et al., 2020).
    Gleeson, J. F. M., Eleftheriadis, D., Santesteban‐Echarri, O., Koval, P., Bastian, B., Penn, D. L., Lim, M. H., Ryan, R. M., & Alvarez‐Jimenez, M. (2020). Positive and meaningful lives: Systematic review and meta‐analysis of eudaimonic well‐being in first‐episode psychosis. Early Intervention in Psychiatry. Advance online publication.
  • A study of Turkish college students found that the relationship between character strengths and depression was completed mediated by perceived stress and negative attributional style (Lee et al., 2019).
    Lee, B., Kaya, C., Chen, X., Wu, J.-R., Iwanaga, K., Umucu, E., Bezyak, J., Tansey, T. N., & Chan, F. (2019). The buffering effect of character strengths on depression: The intermediary role of perceived stress and negative attributional style. European Journal of Health Psychology, 26(3), 101–109.
  • This study examined the connections between character strengths, resilience, and vulnerability and found that high levels of wisdom, courage, optimism, calmness, and resilience were connected with decreased psychological vulnerability (Demirci et al., 2019).
    Demirci, İ., Ekşi, H., Ekşi, F., & Kaya, C. (2019). Character strengths and psychological vulnerability: The mediating role of resilience. Current Psychology.
  • Uses strengths profiling for a 10-week, strengths-based intervention to help homeless youth. Signature strengths were found to be a central protective factor and character strengths correlated with resilience, self-worth, and well-being (Cooley et al., 2019).
    Cooley, S. J., Quinton, M. L., Holland, M. J. G., Parry, B. J., & Cumming, J. (2019). The experiences of homeless youth when using strengths profiling to identify their character strengths. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2036.
  • Building off the ever-increasing science of character, this article offers a new theory of character strengths for thriving across the adversities/struggles and opportunities/positives of life. In mapping across time orientations, six character strengths functions are articulated: the priming and buffering functions (future); mindfulness and reappraisal functions (present); appreciation and resilience functions (past) (Niemiec, 2019).
    Niemiec, R. (2019). Six functions of character strengths for thriving at times of adversity and opportunity: A theoretical perspective. Applied Research in Quality of Life. | Full PDF Article
  • Examines differences in character strengths before, between, and after two terror attacks in Paris in 2015 and compares these differences with the U.S. and Australia during the same time periods. While several significant findings emerged, no clear pattern was discovered and effect sizes were very small (Lamade et al., 2019).
    Lamade, R. V., Jayawickreme, E., Blackie, L. E.R., & McGrath, R. E. (2019). Are sequential sample designs useful for examining post-traumatic changes in character strengths? Journal of Positive Psychology. Advance online publication.
  • A sample of 115 caregivers of people with dementia were examined in a study on caregiver burden and character strengths. Higher caregiver burden was connected with lower scores on hope, zest, social intelligence, and love and hope was the strength that best predicted caregiver burden and explained the relationship between stress and burden (García-Castro, Alba, & Blanca, 2019).
    García-Castro, F. J., Alba, A., & Blanca, M. J. (2019). Association between character strengths and caregiver burden: Hope as a mediator. Journal of Happiness Studies. Advance online publication.
  • The most common character strengths among over 100 individuals with first episode psychosis were honesty, kindness, fairness, gratitude, and humor; the virtues of humanity, justice, and transcendence were associated with improvement of symptoms, psychological well-being, and interpersonal relations (Browne et al., 2018).
    Browne, J., Estroff, S., Ludwig, K. A., Merritt, C., & Penn, D. (2018). Character strengths of individuals with first episode psychosis in individual resiliency training. Schizophrenia Research.
  • In a study examining adversities (victimization, stressful life events, and financial stress), the combination of strengths and adversities accounted for 58% of the variance in well-being, 50% of the variance in posttraumatic growth, and 50% of the variance in trauma symptoms (Hamby, Grych, & Banyard, 2018).
    Hamby, S., Grych, J., & Banyard, V. (2018). Resilience portfolios and poly-strengths: Identifying protective factors associated with thriving after adversity. Psychology of Violence, 8(2), 172-183.
  • Qualitative study of adults with ADHD that compared core themes from interview analysis with the 24 character strengths (Sedgwick, Merwood, & Asherson, 2018).
    Sedgwick, J. A., Merwood, A., & Asherson, P. (2018). The positive aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A qualitative investigation of successful adults with adhd. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders. Advance online publication.
  • In a study of thousands of community participants, two subgroup profiles were found – an “at-strengths” group who was high in strength groupings of caring, inquisitiveness, and self-control – and an “at-risk” group who was low on the strength groupings. The former had higher psychological well-being and less negative emotional symptoms while the latter showed worse mental health outcomes (Duan & Wang, 2018).
    Duan, W., & Wang, Y. (2018). Latent profile analysis of the three-dimensional model of character strengths to distinguish at-strengths and at-risk populations. Quality of Life Research: An International Journal of Quality of Life Aspects of Treatment, Care & Rehabilitation. Advance online publication.
  • In this study of depression subtypes, an emphasis is made on eliciting strengths in assessing depression because strengths are often overlooked in treatment modalities, strengths offer powerful tools that can help people with depression, and as focused in this study, depressed individuals who present with strong character strengths may be experiencing a substantially different subtype of depression (Barton, Barkin, & Miller, 2017).
    Barton, Y. A., Barkin, S. H., & Miller, L. (2017). Deconstructing depression: A latent profile analysis of potential depressive subtypes in emerging adults. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 4(1), 1-21.
  • A randomized study in which the intervention group focused on taking the VIA Youth Survey, identifying their top 3 character strengths, and reviewing linked coping strategies to each strength experienced sustained improvement (3 months) in self-efficacy and self-esteem (Toback, Graham-Bermann, & Patel, 2016).
    Toback, R. L., Graham-Bermann, S., & Patel, P. D. (2016). Outcomes of a character strengths-based intervention on self-esteem and self-efficacy of psychiatrically hospitalized youths. Psychiatric Services, 67(5), 574–577.
  • A study of coping strategies among college students revealed that wisdom strengths were connected with cognitive-behavioral coping, that 16 strengths were correlated with behavioral coping, and that four strengths were correlated with cognitive coping (Gustems-Carnicer & Calderon, 2016).
    Gustems-Carnicer, J., & Calderón, C. (2016). Virtues and character strengths related to approach coping strategies of college students. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 19(1), 77–95.
  • A study of the relationship between resilience and character strengths found that several categories of character strength (emotional, interpersonal, intellectual, and restraint-oriented strengths) were positively related to resilience and one category (theological strengths) was not. Strengths predicted variance in resilience above demographic variables, social support, self-esteem, life satisfaction, positive affect, self-efficacy, and optimism (Martínez-Martí & Ruch, 2016).
    Martínez-Martí, M. L., & Ruch, W. (2016). Character strengths predict resilience over and above positive affect, self-efficacy, optimism, social support, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology.  
  • Among 1078 adolescents living in southern Israel and being exposed to long periods of war, terrorism, and political conflict, character strengths of temperance, transcendence, and interpersonal categories were found to negatively relate to psychiatric symptoms. Supports a resilience function of character strengths (Shoshani & Slone, 2016).
    Shoshani, A., & Slone, M. (2016). The resilience function of character strengths in the face of war and protracted conflict. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.  
  • Examined the VIA Classification virtues and three coping strategies among college students and found that wisdom was positively correlated with behavioral coping and cognitive coping. More strengths were positively associated with behavioral coping strategies (16 strengths) than cognitive coping strategies (4 strengths) (Gustems-Carnicer & Calderón, 2016).
    Gustems-Carnicer, J., & Calderón, C. (2016). Virtues and character strengths related to approach coping strategies of college students. Social Psychology of Education, 19(1), 77-95.  
  • Two studies explored the link between VIA virtues and posttraumatic growth among people in China who had experienced the trauma of a natural disaster (first study) or a range of traumatic experiences (second study). Results revealed significant, positive correlations between virtues and posttraumatic growth (Duan & Guo, 2015) and a significant relationship between virtues and trait resilience where the former contributed more to posttraumatic growth while the latter was a strong predictor of PTSD (Duan, Guo, & Gan, 2015).
    1. Duan, W., & Guo, P. (2015). Association between virtues and posttraumatic growth: Preliminary evidence from a Chinese community sample after earthquakes. PeerJ, 3 , e883.
    2. Duan, W., Guo, P., & Gan, P. (2015). Relationships among trait resilience, virtues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and post-traumatic growth.
    PLOS One .  
  • Individuals with early psychosis (N = 29) identified their character strengths on the VIA Survey which led to higher positive affect and cognitive performance, with no effect on self-esteem or self-efficacy (Sims et al., 2015).
    Sims, A., Barker, C., Price, C., & Fornells-Ambrojo, M. (2015). Psychological impact of identifying character strengths in people with psychosis. Psychosis: Psychological, Social and Integrative Approaches, 7(2), 179-182.  
  • In a Korean study, addiction to smart-phones was associated with less temperance character strengths, while Internet addiction was associated with higher wisdom character strengths and lower courage character strengths (Choi et al., 2015).
    Choi, S. W., Kim, D. J., Choi, J. S., Ahn, H., Choi, E. J., Song, W. Y., Kim, S., & Youn, H. C. (2015). Comparison of risk and protective factors associated with smartphone addiction and Internet addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4(4), 308-314.  
  • Among 214 undergraduates, psychiatric and non-psychiatric cases did not differ in character strengths, life satisfaction, or positive affect. Gratitude, hope, forgiveness, and curiosity were examined and found to each predict unique outcomes such as mental health and life satisfaction (hope and gratitude), positive affect (gratitude, hope, curiosity), self-esteem (hope, gratitude, and exploratory curiosity but not absorption curiosity which negatively predicted self-esteem) (Macaskill & Denovan, 2014).
    Macaskill, A., & Denovan, A. (2014). Assessing psychological health: The contribution of psychological strengths. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 42(3), 320-337.
  • A qualitative study examining the strengths and posttraumatic growth of ex-offenders in South Africa re-integrating into society and found important evidence for the strengths of hope, gratitude, and spirituality (Guse & Hudson, 2014).
    Guse, T., & Hudson, D. (2014). Psychological strengths and posttraumatic growth in the successful reintegration of South African ex-offenders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 58(12), 1449-1465.  
  • This study examined whether strengths predict depression or whether depression leads to decreases in strengths, testing character strengths such as gratitude, hope, and perseverance every 3 months for a year. They found that character strengths reduced depression while depression did not significantly reduce character strengths (Disabato et al., 2014).
    Disabato, D. J., Short, J. L., Kashdan, T. B., Curby, T. W., & Jarden, A. (2014).  Do character strengths reduce future depression or does depression reduce character strengths? Presentation for the American Psychological Association.