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Positive psychology is based on the premise that it is equally important to study what is good in life as it is to study what goes wrong. Positive psychology thus focuses on building and capitalizing on existing strengths of people while not focusing too much on their weaknesses, which has been focus of the traditional pathological view of humans.
Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, and Christopher Peterson, accordingly, have developed a Values In Action (VIA)-character strengths inventory and classification scheme to measure and classify the virtues or character strengths in a taxonomic system. It is a 240 items self-report measure that identifies 24 character strengths and orders them as per their predominance in a person’s life. These 24 character strengths are further classified in 6 broad virtues. I am reproducing teh 6 broad virtues and the 24 character strengths below:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
    • Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things
    • Curiosity: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake
    • Open-mindedness: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
    • Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
    • Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others
  2. Courage-Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal
    • Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain
    • Persistence: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles
    • Integrity: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way
    • Vitality: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing anything halfheartedly
  3. Humanity-Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
    • Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which caring is reciprocated
    • Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
    • Social intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself
  4. Justice- Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
    • Citizenship: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to a group
    • Fairness: Treating all people the same according to the notions of fairness and justice
    • Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done
  5. Temperance-Strengths that protect against excess
    • Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ faults
    • Humility/Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
    • Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks
    • Self-regulation: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined
  6. Transcendence-Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
    • Appreciation of beauty and excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or
      skilled performance in various domains of life
    • Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
    • Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it
    • Humor: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people
    • Spirituality: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe

Seligman and Peterson arrived at these strengths via an esoteric route: they analyzed the major ethical and religious teachings of major eastern (Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism) and western  (Judaism, Christianity, Athenian virtues and Islamic) religions and going by the authoritative texts of these religions tried to find universal and ubiquitous character strengths or virtues.  They themselves and others performed factor analysis on their 240 item questionnaire, and data obtained from different people who answered the questionnaire, and obtained at different time 5 factor or 4 factor solutions.

Seligman and Peterson themselves identify the following five factors from exploratory factor analysis. :

  • strengths of restraint (fairness, humility, mercy, prudence)
  • intellectual strengths (e.g., creativity, curiosity, love of learning,appreciation of beauty)
  • interpersonal strengths (e.g., kindness, love, leadership, teamwork,playfulness)
  • emotional strengths (e.g., bravery, hope, self-regulation, zest)
  • theological strengths (e.g., gratitude, spirituality)

Some other researchers found a four factor structure ( Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness) while some others have found related four or even one factor structure.

To my mind the original character strengths seem to follow the five/eight staged developmental/evolutionary model, especially when seen from the big 5/8 personality model ,  as follows:

  1. stage 1: related to emotions: personality trait neuroticism. character strength of Courage/Fortitude. Also known otherwise as emotional strength.
  2. stage 2: related to impulses/will: personality trait conscientiousness: character strength of Temperance. Also known otherwise as  strength of restraint.
  3. stage 3: related to forming alliances and friendships and concerned with dominance/submission. the social domain and group dynamics.  personality trait extraversion. character strength Justice. Leadership, fairness and citizenship are all civic strengths.
  4. stage 4: related to close interpersonal relations. personality trait agreeableness. : the personal and interpersonal domain. character strength humanity. Also known as interpersonal strength.
  5. stage 5: related to self-discovery and cognition; personality trait openness to experience. the cognitive and intellectual domain. character strength wisdom. also known as intellectual strengths .
  6. stage 6, 7 and 8 are qualitatively different and thus might have been clubbed into the transcendence/religiosity factor, but I believe as we evolve and understand better we would be able to classify the transcendence / religiosity factor into 3 separate factors and identify the individually. For a starter distinguishing amongst religiosity (trust vs distrust the sixth stage)  and transcendence (the eighth stage) may be called for.  Also, Todd Kashandan et al found that Vitality may be an apt name for the factor representing transcendence/religiosity and by vitality they meant Zest, hope humor etc all traits that are related to personality dimension of 7th stage viz Activity. thus I propose to split transcendence in 3 factors: one religious strengths ( stage 6 consisting of gratitude, hope); activity strengths (stage 7 consisting of Zest, humor, vitality etc) and transcendence strengths (stage 8 consisting spirituality, appreciation of beauty etc)

I would be on the lookout for the astute experimenter/observer who first fits the eight stage factor model to the character strengths and confirms the eight factor structure of character strengths and virtues and also relates them to underlying personality traits.

Seligman and Peterson have themselves tried to relate the character strengths to personality traits and so have been other recent attempts, but they will remain insufficient till the eight stage theoretical model is taken as a foundation. Seligman and Peterson note, in respect of the five factor structure they discovered using factor analysis:

What we call here strengths of restraint correspond closely to virtues of temperance; intellectual strengths correspond to virtues of wisdom and knowledge; interpersonal strengths collapse the virtues of humanity and justice ; emotional strengths correspond to virtues of courage; and the theological strengths are included among our transcendence virtues.
We also note that the first three factors here correspond to the Big Five factors of conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness; the fourth factor—emotional strengths—may correspond to the opposite of the Big Five factor of neuroticism. The fifth factor—theological strengths—has no Big Five counterpart.

I believe their attempts, and the attempts of other researchers will go futile, till the eight fold developmental/evolutionary model is taken as the theoretical bedrock on which to perform confirmatory factor analysis.

Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2005). Shared Virtue: The Convergence of Valued Human Strengths Across Culture and History. Review of General Psychology, 9 (3), 203-213 DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.3.203
Brdar, I., & Kashdan, T. (2010). Character strengths and well-being in Croatia: An empirical investigation of structure and correlates Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (1), 151-154 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.12.001

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