Posts tagged character strengths

Research Summaries: Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents


Today’s research summary focuses on a very early article by Angela Duckworth, that first catapulted her to fame. Co-authored with Martin Seligmen, the article focuses on how non-cognitive factors like self-control are a better predictor of scholastic achievement than say cognitive factors like IQ.

Two college students wrestling (collegiate, sc...

Two college students wrestling (collegiate, scholastic, or folkstyle) in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Authors use the awkward term self-discipline in the paper, but all they really meant was self-control, defining which, and around which, a rich literature already existed. Angela clarifies as much in her new MOOC on Coursera, so don’t start wondering what this new concept means in psychological literature.
  2. Self-control (which the authors surprisingly didn’t define), as per VIA, is the ability to be disciplined and to regulate what one feels and does; it involves both feelings and actions; it is the ability to delay present gratification for future benefits, and it also about not getting distracted by temptations and able to focus on the task at hand. It is the opposite of being impulsive.
  3. The present studies (two of them) focused on class VIII students and were partly driven by Angela’s observation as a math teacher that hard working students who could control their impulses, sometimes fared better than those who could grasp concepts easily. That drove part of the hypothesis.
  4. Earlier works has shown that Self-control, as measured by Marshmallow test, in 4 year olds, can predict positive life outcomes decades later; similarly, in college students out of 32 measured personality traits (like extraversion, energy levels etc), only self-control predicted later CGPA more robustly than earlier SAT scores. Thus, it was reasonable to hypothesize that self-control in eighth graders will predict academic achievement better than IQ.
  5. Self-control is a difficult thing to measure accurately. Thus, they used self-reports, teacher reports, parent reports as well as a test that gave students hypothetical choices between a small reward now or a big reward later. Angela actually wanted to do an age appropriate  test similar to marshmallow test with the eighth graders, but Marty was skeptical; in the second study they did include a behavioral measure of delay of gratification task, whereby they actually handed out 1$ envelope to students with a choice of  keeping that or returning it now to get 2$ next week.
  6. Academic achievement was measured by grades achieved at end term, attendance, selection into a high school program, and achievement test scores.
  7. IQ was measured using a standard IQ test; keep in mind that IQ is a very narrow assessment for a part of broader cognitive factors/ intelligence.
  8. What they found was that self-control not only predicted academic achievement and who would improve school grades over the class term, but that it was twice an effective predictor than IQ (explained twice as much variance).
  9. This is an important paper as it makes the case for enhancing and working on the self-control of students, for better academic performance. Self-control, by all means, and like any other character strength, is malleable and can be increased by proper interventions.
  10. This paper is personally relevant to me, as last year I worked with IXth class students on their character strengths and this year I am working with VIII class students focusing on their character strengths.  Although the results, I believe, will be applicable and generalize to other age groups, its heartening to note that at least for VIII class, barring cross-cultural effects, there is proven research showing that increasing strengths like self-control pays big dividends.

if the above has you wanting to read more, go to the source- the original article can be found here.

Character strengths and virtues: a 5/8 factor structure?

Tibetan endless knot
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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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