Character Strengths and Success
in Students
N H Thompson, Dr. David Pearson & Dr. Judith Hosie
A pilot study used a battery of self report measures to investigate the relationship between
character strengths and measures of well being, coping and academic achievement in a
population of highly successful learners (university students) to inform a larger, longitudinal
study investigating the relationships between non-cognitive strengths and successful
learning in schoolchildren (ongoing).
This research aims to investigate:
Descriptive, Correlation and Exploratory Factor Analysis techniques were used to explore
the X-sectional data:
Table 1. Means and Standard deviations for measures of Optimism (LOT-R), Strengths Use (SUS) and the PANAS.
Relationships between strengths possession, coping style and strengths use, and
measures of academic performance.
Whether the aforementioned relationships are predictive of academic performance.
The extent to which coping style mediates the relationship between non-cognitive
strengths and academic performance.
Interaction effects between strengths use and possession
Table 2: Correlation matrix between measures of Optimism,
Strengths Use and the PANAS
Research suggests the possession and exercise of “Positive Traits / character
strengths” is predictive of success, happiness, wellbeing, resilience and health.
Using “trait strengths” has been linked to greater happiness, success and social
and intellectual development.
VIA-IS (Strengths measure) Structure:
High cross-loadings (EFA&CFA)
EFA: 4 or 5 factors, not interpretable
VIA-IS does not FA cleanly
Specific strengths have been found to be strongly correlated with, and predictive
of, success in particular life domains. “Temperance strengths” or “non-cognitive /
pro-social strengths” (humour, kindness, fairness, prudence, self-regulation,
modesty, forgiveness) and perseverance, have been linked to academic
achievement 1.
Detailed understanding of the underlying structure of good character within
individuals and their developmental trajectory over time is still under
investigation. The longitudinal study currently underway will contribute to the
understanding of how strengths develop over time in an adolescent sample.
 It is unclear whether specific strengths are predictive of flourishing in other life
domains (e.g. coping), and how these might interact with or influence academic
achievement. Lounsbury et al (2009) suggest that the relationship between prosocial / non-cognitive strengths and academic attainment may be explained by
positive coping behaviour 2. These studies will investigate this interpretation.
CROSS-SECTIONAL PILOT: 72 First year Psychology undergraduates (M=24; F=48; age
range 17-35, M= 20.12; SD = 2.73) from the University of Aberdeen completed a
battery of self report questionnaires. Their academic data (pre and post
questionnaire completion) was obtained, with consent, through student records.
LONGITUDINAL STUDY (ongoing): 190 3rd year students from 2 schools in the
Aberdeen area; Data collected across 3 time points, 6 months apart; 1st time point
data collected (SNAP) and currently being explored
Participants completed self-report measures of:
PA, Optimism & Strengths Use: +ve
correlations (sig at 0.01 level)
NA: -ve correlations with LOT-R (sig at 0.01)
None of the investigated constructs showed
any relationships with academic outcomes as
measured by exam performance (e.g. Fig.3).
No relationships found between VIA-IS (or
WOC) and exam results (e.g.Fig.3).
Fig.3 Scatterplot of Persistence against Exam
Conclusions and Future Directions
Psychometrics in line with literature: Related constructs
show expected correlational relationships; Contributes to
validity of Strengths Use measure
VIA-IS does not FA cleanly / consistently 9
Conceptual Structure not supported
No relationships found between non-cognitive strengths
and exam results
Data noisy; small sample; lack of variance in sample
Strengths (Cross-sectional: VIA-IS 3, Longitudinal: SAI-Y 4)
Strengths use (SUS 5)
Coping (Ways Of Coping, WOC 6)
Well-being (Positive And Negative Affect Schedule – PANAS 7)
Optimism (Life Orientation Test – Revised, LOT-R, Optimism 8 )
Objective measures:
Longitudinal Study (underway) 190 3rd year students
from 2 schools in the Aberdeen area; 1st data collection
completed (Online) and currently being explored
Larger more diverse sample; range of abilities;
opportunity to investigate developmental change over
Investigation of the relationship between noncognitive strengths and academic attainment, and
whether coping explains these relationships
Use SAI-Y to measure strengths: more suitable for
adolescent population; empirically derived scales.
Participants Academic record (Grades / Exam results)
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