What are the ingredients of adversity? Examining characteristics of adverse events as predictors of character growth


Which kinds of adversities are associated with character growth, and which ones are not? Are there certain adverse life events that lead to character growth? Our research project focuses on event characteristics such as the predictability of a life event or the perceived influence an individual has on a certain life event. The aim of this project is to explore possible associations between life event characteristics and character growth.

Our research project focuses on young adults in the phases of transition from high school to work or to university and on the transition from university to work. These transition phases are known to be associated with changes is various life domains (e.g. young adults move, daily routines change etc.), and some of those changes may be adverse (e.g. the best friend moves far way). When looking at life events, each event has various facets. Imagine a young man who decides to move abroad where his girlfriend lives. This life event is positive, exciting and sad at the same time as he leaves his friends and family behind. Similarly, childbirth is a wonderful life event causing happiness and love, but having the responsibility for a baby can also cause fears or distress. Furthermore, the same (life) event can be perceived very differently by different individuals.

For this reason we ask the young adults to name and rate the most important event they recently experienced on various dimensions. We use the Event Characteristics Questionnaire (ECQ) (Luhmann & Alcock, 2018), developed in our lab, for the event ratings. We would like to find out which characteristics of (adverse) events lead to character growth.

Our study has a longitudinal design: Young adults are recruited before or at the beginning of the transition period to be assessed the first time with an online self-report questionnaire. There are four further assessments, one every three months. Thus, the whole study lasts an entire year for each participant. At each assessment, we ask the participants to name the most important event of the last three months and let them rate this event on the ECQ. From the second assessment on, the participants are also asked to rate an event they had named at a previous assessment. For personality characteristics, our survey contains questions assessing gratitude, humility, open-mindedness, altruism, empathy, well-being and life satisfaction.

Subject recruiting (German sample) started in July 2018. The study title is “What’s NEXT? Dein Leben in einer neuen Phase” (“What’s NEXT? Your life in a new phase”). Interested individuals can obtain further information on the study webpage ( Study participants can win vouchers in various raffles during the year of data collection. Data collection started in July 2018. We are collecting data for this first assessment until October 2018. Thus, longitudinal data collection is planned to end in October 2019.


Luhmann, M. & Alcock, M. (2018). A Dimensional Taxonomy of Event Characteristics. Manuscript under review.