Research

New Directions in Measuring Character Growth Following Challenge and Failure

The empirical research at WFU will be led by Eranda Jayawickreme and other collaborators. This project aims to address the causality, accuracy, stability, and mechanisms of short-term adversity-driven change with 360 participants drawn from two different populations each highly likely to be exposed to different forms of challenge and failure; a student sample experiencing a year of significant academic challenges (following Blackie et al., 2016) and a low socio-economic community sample (following Blackie, Jayawickreme, Helzer, Forgeard, & Roepke, 2015).

The research program at WFU will build on Frazier et al.’s (2009) groundbreaking study through a multi-sample year-long longitudinal study. This proposed project will combine a longitudinal multi-method measurement burst design, a profile approach utilizing a round-robin design as well as a qualitative assessment to address novel questions concerning the perception, meta-perception and development of character following challenge and failure. We will address the causality, accuracy, stability, and mechanisms of short-term adversity-driven change with 360 participants drawn from two different populations each highly likely to be exposed to different forms of challenge and failure; a student sample experiencing a year of significant academic challenges (following Blackie et al., 2016) and a low socio-economic community sample (following Blackie, Jayawickreme, Helzer, Forgeard, & Roepke, 2015). We decided to draw from two distinct populations here in order to examine the question of whether socio-demographic characteristics unique to each group may affect the likelihood that people may experience growth in the aftermath of adversity. As noted in the section on the ASU research project for example, individuals who report stronger social support may be more likely to experience character growth following adversity (Infurna & Luthar, in press). In addition, Seery et al. (2010) found that moderate cumulative life adversity was associated with greater resilience, potentially impacting the capacity for growth. Given that participants from these two populations likely differ in the amount of cumulative adversity they have experienced (as we have found in our prior research; Blackie et al., 2015; 2016), we would be able examine the possibilities and limitations of lifetime adversity in acting as a catalyst for subsequent growth.

We aim to achieve five specific hypotheses with this study, which are detailed below.

  1. Some participants will experience “actual” growth on character virtues such as humility, prosocial motivation and open-mindedness (and assess the role of potential mechanisms such as those discussed in the ASU proposal);
  2. This “actual” growth is a function of experiencing daily growth-relevant manifestations of specific character virtues, and that specific situational contingencies are related to such manifestations and predict subsequent increases in daily growth in the short-term;
  3. Certain informants can provide accurate assessments of participants’ changes in specific character virtues
  4. Participants can more accurately predict their informants’ reports of their own character change following challenge and failure than their own changes in character when compared to actual pre-post character growth (i.e. have meta-insight about their character change; e.g. Carlson, Vazire, & Furr, 2011)
  5. Qualitative ratings of eudemonic growth (defined below) coded from narratives from participants with track actual growth over and above retrospective assessments of character growth, and allow for distinguishing between “actual” and inaccurate beliefs about character change.