Our Objective

Can we grow through adversity?

The notion that adversities, challenges, or failures that occur during the course of one’s life have the potential to facilitate positive change or personal growth has had significant currency.

The name that has been most frequently assigned to these positive changes is referred to as post-traumatic growth (PTG; Helgeson et al., 2006). However, a central limitation of the research examining the possibility for PTG has been whether individuals’ reporting of growth translates into meaningful character change. For example, a majority of studies examining PTG have relied exclusively on retrospective self-perceived reports. Retrospective reports have numerous limitations, with the most notable being biasing one’s ability to correctly recall whether growth indeed transpired across those domains (Jayawickreme & Blackie, 2014). Additionally, while the last few years have seen increased interest in the scientific assessment and exploration of character strengths and virtues (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; McGrath, 2015), little is known about the developmental trajectory of such traits, and the role that adversity has in being a catalyst for change.

We believe that it is important to both scientifically examine the consequences of adversity, and also ensure that the purported “benefits” of adversity are supported by scientific evidence. On the one hand, there is continued and ongoing scientific advances and debates in the resilience literature showing that individuals who have experienced adversity typically show substantial declines, but are able to recover over a period of time (Infurna & Luthar, 2016). On the other hand, however, theories of growth following adversity make an additional claim – that in the wake of adversity, an individual’s life does not only return to “normalcy” or a “new-normal”, but can in fact lead to improvement, compared to before the adversity. These theories have not yet been subjected to rigorous scientific investigation (Jayawickreme & Blackie, 2014). Because such theories are intuitively appealing, it is essential that they be subjected to empirical verification to help inform mainstream cultural narratives. We believe that the Pathways to Character project provides the unique opportunity to further our understanding of how character strengths and virtues can potentially grow and flourish even in the wake of adversity, and stimulate research on this topic.

Featured Projects

Meet The Team

Project Leaders

Frank J. Infurna

Frank J. Infurna

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University

Frank J. Infurna is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. His research focuses on examining resilience to major life stressors and psychosocial and work predictors that are associated with healthy aging outcomes in adulthood and old age.

Eranda Jayawickreme

Eranda Jayawickreme

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University

Eranda Jayawickreme is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University. He does work on understanding post-traumatic growth in terms of permanent positive personality change among war-affected populations in Rwanda and Sri Lanka as well as various populations in the USA. In addition, he works on well-being, moral personality, and integrative theories of personality.

Pathways to Character Project Core Team

  • William Fleeson

    Wake Forest University
  • Patricia Frazier

    University of Minnesota
  • Kristján Kristjánsson

    University of Birmingham
  • Richard Lerner

    Tufts University
  • Crystal Park

    University of Connecticut
  • Jacqui Smith

    University of Michigan
  • Howard Tennen

    University of Connecticut
  • Valerie Tiberius

    University of Minnesota