Identifying Patterns of Character Development During the Deployment Cycle: Antecedents and Consequences of Change

Can exposure to adversity lead to positive outcomes and personal growth? Despite the persistent narrative of post-traumatic growth and the development of conceptual models hypothesizing the conditions leading to such growth, research reliably demonstrating positive character development following adversity has proved elusive. Much past research is limited in the way it attempts to characterize character development, relying on cross-sectional samples, using retrospective measures, and relying on analytic assumptions that might exaggerate or suppress the amount of change that individuals experience. In the current proposal, we examine character development across the deployment cycle in a large group of U.S. soldiers followed over time. Character was measured with the Abbreviated Character Strengths Test, from which four factors (Intellect, Civic Strengths, Temperance, and Warmth) can be derived. Character development will be modeled using growth mixture modeling to identify separate trajectories of change. Predeployment characteristics (demographics, psychosocial characteristics) will be examined as class predictors. Post-deployment mental and physical health outcomes will be examined as a function of class membership. Because we are addressing character growth prospectively across a challenging life transition, we feel we are ideally suited to complete this project under the RFP.