Exploring Character Growth in Young Adults Who Seek or Have Refugee Status


Presently, almost 6 million people have refugee status worldwide, with more than 1.2 million people seeking asylum in Europe alone. In the Netherlands, many of these individuals are young adults of Syrian origin who have faced immense social, economic, and psychological hardship, and may continue to do so as they resettle in their host country. Within psychology, the majority of past research has focused on psychological factors such as risk and trauma in these populations. In our research, we are investigating the potential for these experiences of adversity to generate a positive outcome—character growth.

We focus specifically on how emotions play a critical role in promoting character growth for asylum seekers, who have faced life-changing adversity. Emotions like awe, gratitude, and compassion are associated with character strengths such as humility, honesty, and kindness. Yet, the interplay between emotions, adversity, and character growth have not been empirically tested. These emotions may lay the foundation for character growth over time. Therefore, in Karakter (, a study funded by the John Templeton Foundation, we are conducting a year-long longitudinal, multi-assessment study of young adults of Syrian origin who seek or have refugee status in the Netherlands.

In our longitudinal design, young adults of Syrian origin will participate in our study four times across thirteen months. Over the course of the year, emotions, experiences of life events, post-migration difficulties, and character will be assessed using methodologies at different time resolutions. Experiences of emotions are captured through questionnaires to track longer-term changes across the year, brief smartphone survey assessments over the course of a week to generate snapshots of everyday life, and real-time momentary assessments via audio recordings to gather behavioral indicators of experiences. By utilizing these different methodologies, we will be able to examine how emotions impact character growth after adversity at different levels of resolution.

Findings from Karakter will yield insights into the extent to which adversity is linked to character development over time through emotions. Additionally, we hope that by focusing on positive development, such as character strengths, Karakter will help to provide a more comprehensive picture of the experiences and changes of young adults who seek or have refugee status. In addition, this work may implications for groups who have faced other life-changing forms of hardship and offer insight into how emotions can facilitate growth following adversity.