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Strong or Smart 1 Strong or Smart: Values-in-Action 24 Character Strengths Inventory, Academic Achievement, and Student Satisfaction Among Arts and Non-arts College Students Hyunjung Bae & Kimberly A. McCarthy Columbia College Chicago

Abstract Positive Psychology focuses on positive subjective experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions, such as educational or the workplace, that serve to enable positive experience and achievement. This study was conducted at an urban arts and media college and resulted in distinctive differences between Arts and Non-arts majors on academic achievement, college and life satisfaction, and the Values-In-Action 24 Character Strengths Inventory. Arts majors exhibited greater college satisfaction as well as a higher correlation with academic achievement, and a higher correlation between academic achievement and the character strengths of Love of Learning, Creativity, and Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. The results suggest that the integration of Arts and Non-arts curricula can foster greater satisfaction and academic achievement among all college students. Keywords: Values-in-Action 24 Character Strengths, Academic Achievement, Student Satisfaction, Positive Psychology, Art, College students

We would like to thank the conference participants for their questions and comments so helpful in the final version of our paper, and Felix Lam for her helpful assistance in producing a wonderful conference.


Strong or Smart 2 Introduction Historically, and understandably, psychology focuses on decreasing maladaptive emotions and behaviors. This focus will not and should not be abandoned. However after WWII a need for a holistic examination of human phenomena emerged, phenomena such as self-actualization, creativity, love, intrinsic nature, science, and the arts. Psychologist Abraham Maslow was one of the leaders who developed the field of Humanistic Psychology (DeCarvalho, 1991). Among his contributions is the theory of selfactualization: the ability to live to our potential without harming others (Maslow, 1971/1993). People can exhibit great talent but it is only “without harming others� that distinguishes creativity from talent. It comes as no surprise then that creativity sits at is at the forefront of his proposal. According to Maslow (1962/1998), the greatest value of creativity is that through it we become better people; we are the product. Inventions, theories and facts epitomize creative products but of greater interest to Maslow is creativity in the arts. Inventions and facts are easily validated through scientific means, the most common being replication. Theories involve logic thereby introducing a scientific element in their evaluation and valuation. In contrast the arts present a unique challenge in that their evaluation and valuation is largely subjective. However self-actualization encompasses more than self-expression. It includes an outward view that focuses on the issues of great relevance to humanity. In psychological terms the balance of strong introspection and concern with the bigger picture of outward action is best captured in theories of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to engagement with a task because the process of the task itself is rewarding and meaningful whereas extrinsic motivation refers to engagement with a task in order to gain something external to the task. In extrinsic motivation the task is a means to an end. Creativity in science-oriented fields works to control intrinsic evaluation in deference to extrinsic evaluation. Objectivity is the goal in the provision of a service. Creativity in the arts includes service to a larger goal but is also dependent upon intrinsic evaluation in that a stable reference point is much more elusive. Maslow promoted education through the arts because of this very balance. Others have since added transcendent needs to the stage in which self-actualization is identified whereby the individual works to help other realize self-actualization.


Strong or Smart 3 Csikszentmihalyi (1998) expands Maslow’s proposal in outlining the experience of flow where one is completely absorbed in an activity because of its intrinsic value: “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Echoing Maslow, he equates creativity with optimal experience. As a child in Hungary during and after WWII he noticed that very few of the adults seemed happy, in fact, most reflected an aura of having been traumatized and pessimistic about the possibility of having a happy life (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). What makes a life worth living became his question (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 2006), one that would continue in his work on creativity and flow. Meanwhile Martin Seligman was investigating Learned Helplessness (Peterson, Maier, & Seligman, 1995) followed by Learned Optimism (Seligman, 1992). Learned Helplessness, the belief that no matter what one does he or she cannot escape punishment, describes the developmental process through which depression and battered-person syndrome occurs. Learned Optimism, better known as non-negative thinking, outlines the processes through which resilience and hope are strengthened. Explanatory styles can help or hinder the view that a problem is permanent. An unbalanced emphasis on an outcome as intrinsic or extrinsic is affiliated with an optimistic or pessimistic perspective. The pessimistic view is one that explains the outcome as personal, permanent and pervasive, a problem that will be with you throughout life. Optimists note the context, such as the social, cultural, historical, or economic situations that frame the evaluation of an experience. An event is more easily viewed as specific and temporary when the context is considered. In addition, the consideration of context provides a more balanced explanation that can strengthen hope and resilience. Flow and resilience form the cornerstones of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology In 1998, as President of the American Psychological Association, Seligman called for a “positive psychology,” one that focused on strength-congruent activity as the greatest buffer against mental illness, a psychology that focused on the kinds of growth, mastery, drive and character building that can develop after painful experiences or better yet, can be strengthened to


Strong or Smart 4 prevent mental illness (Fowler, Seligman & Koocher, 1998). Positive Psychology shares the Humanistic view of looking at strengths but the two differ on the importance of scientific investigation. One criticism of the Humanistic view is that it is too vague. The subjective experience is considered most important and in itself was a reaction to Behaviorism and Psychoanalytic views. Behaviorism and Psychoanalytic views of human nature emphasize external interventions. Traditional Behaviorism privileges the extrinsic explanation of only behavior that can be observed. Cognitive or affective explanations outside of neuroscience are considered as fiction. If an action cannot be observed how do we know it exists? Observation deems a more efficient mode of intervention. Psychoanalytic views privilege intrinsic explanations and historically, have required the external intervention; the psychiatrist or therapist is viewed as the more accurate interpreter of subjective reports of experience. Positive Psychology strives to find a balance in the interpretation of events through scientific and subjective perspectives, including the strength-based analysis. Positive Psychology focuses on positive subjective experiences, positive individual traits, and the institutions, both organizational and contextual such as a business or the economic that serve to enable positive experience and positive traits (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Good Character Many societies in the United States tend to view drug problems and violence as resulting from the absence of character and values (Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Good character is one in which the individual finds meaning and value in the lived experience. The recent global economic crisis continues to be identified with individuals and institutions that have operated with bad character. Current debates in the United States revolve around those still identified as lacking good values. According to Positive psychology, good character is more than bad character negated or minimized. Ridding bad character from individuals and institutions leaves a gap in that process in terms of what we would like to see take its place. A nod to Behaviorism’s articulation of reinforcement and punishment, the latter serves to reward the punisher and can lead to learned helplessness. Reinforcement is the ideal mode of behavior change in that it provides direction in terms of desirable behavior. As echoed in Positive Psychology, working on desirable behavior as it exists naturally provides a healthier mode of enhancing psychological health. Positive Psychology defines good character as a family of positive characteristics that are


Strong or Smart 5 trait-like in terms of stability and generality in the way they present. The elements of individual traits and character building led to the development of the Values-In-Action Inventory (see http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/register.aspx) Character Strengths and the Values-In-Action Inventory [VIA] Character was chosen as the factor to research because of the aforementioned increase in drug problems and violence and the Mayerson Foundation stepped forward in creating the Values-In-Action Institute on Character (Peterson, Maier & Seligman, 1995). Its initial objective was to study positive youth development but it has since expanded to include any area in which the goal is optimal development (Park, et al., 2004). Strengths of character that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises were chosen because they could encompass a variety of factors relating to optimal development. Definitions of character continue to occupy research endeavors. And Positive Psychology has been in need of a valid measure of character strengths, resulting in the VIA-24 Character Strengths Inventory (see Table 1). The underlying assumptions of the VIA are that good character is more than bad character negated and that strengths of character are based in cognitions and behavior. In general, the VIA was developed in order to study psychological health, as a compendium of “sanities� to complement the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] that is used to diagnose a number of psychological disorders and guide their intervention (Peterson, 2006b). More specifically, the VIA is comprised of 24 character strengths that have appeared consistently across history and culture. Upon completion of the VIA the respondent is provided with a report listing the rank order distribution of the 24 strengths with a special note of the top five. The tendency is to focus on raising the bottom strengths, an understandable response given the enculturation of the medical model. Following the tenets of Positive Psychology and the intentions of the VIA, a strength-based approach is one that focuses on the top five strengths as these are considered the respondent’s natural strengths. Granted a respondent may be unable, at the time, to utilize these strengths without the help of a therapist but even then the addition of strength-based intervention techniques can help to temper the traditional focus on deficits. Such additions also serve to facilitate prevention, a factor important in the maintenance of psychological change.


Strong or Smart 6

Table 1: Values-in-Action 24 Character Strengths Strengths

Additional Descriptors

Beauty

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence, Awe, Wonder

Bravery

Valor

Citizenship

Social Responsibility, Loyalty, Teamwork

Creativity

Originality, Ingenuity

Curiosity

Interest, Novelty-Seeking, Openness to Experience

Fairness Forgiveness

Mercy

Gratitude Hope

Optimism, Future-Mindedness, Future Orientation

Humor

Playfulness

Integrity

Authenticity, Honesty

Judgment

Openmindness, Critical Thinking

Kindness

Generosity, Nurturance, Care, Compassion, Altruistic Love

Leadership Learn

Love of Learning

Love

Capacity to Love and Be Loved

Modesty

Humility

Persistence

Perseverance, Industriousness

Perspective

Wisdom

Prudence Self-regulation

Self-control

Social Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, Personal Intelligence

Spirituality

Religiousness, Faith, Purpose

Zest

Vitality, Enthusiasm, Vigor, Energy


Strong or Smart 7

The Good School Positive Psychology is not just about individual growth but the social institutions that enable development. Such institutions include family, school, church, work place, and community. The “Good� school is one that prepares students to become effective learners throughout life, one that guides students to become caring, responsible, and productive members of society (Peterson, 2006a). Studies have shown that engaged students are more likely to experience flow followed by an increase in a love of learning (Steele & Fullagar, 2009; Shernoff, Csikszentmihalyi, Schneider & Shernoff, 2003). Flow, in which action meets awareness or challenge meets talent, is the optimal condition of most effective learning. Aside from academic learning, schools and colleges provide opportunities for students to develop cultural/artistic interests, to expand interpersonal horizons, to extend intellectual interests, to advance a sense of autonomy and psychological maturity (Hamrick, Evans & Schuh, 2002; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). As educators we are interested in the ways college, as a social institution, can influence students in the awareness of their own VIA, either through curricula design or the school culture in general. The Study by Lounsbury, Fisher, Levy & Welsh (2009) Lounsbury, Fisher, Levy & Welsh (2009) examined the relationship between academic achievement and character strength and student satisfaction with 237 undergraduate students enrolled in upper division psychology courses (85% under age 25 and 97% Caucasian). They found 16 of the VIA character strengths were correlated with academic achievement (measured as the self-reported GPA), 22 strengths were correlated with College Satisfaction, and all 24 character strengths to be positively correlated with Life Satisfaction. Influenced by the previously discussed relationships among flow, arts education, student engagement, and academic achievement, we chose to replicate their study using Arts and Non-arts majors as situated in an arts and media college environment. Might study in such an environment, following Maslow's (1962) "education through the arts" proposal, lead to stronger life and academic satisfaction in comparison to curricula where the arts are marginalized or omitted?


Strong or Smart 8 Methods Site of Study The current study took place at a private arts and media college based in Chicago, Illinois, (USA) with over 12,000 students. Participant Population Total Sample The combined Arts and Non-arts sample for those who completed the Student Satisfaction survey consisted of 96 undergraduate students (68% Caucasian, 13% Hispanic/Latino, 6% Asian-American, 3% African-American, 7% Other). Differences between the two groups were not found when controlling for age, sex, race/ethnicity, level of progress towards degree, or the educational attainment of parents. There were no available mechanisms to ensure students would complete the VIA since it would have to be done outside the parameters of the class. Consequently the sample size for those who completed both the survey and the VIA was limited to 54 participants. Arts Participants (n=25) were majors in design, visual and plastic arts, interactive arts and media, music, theater, dance, photography, film, fashion, television, journalism, or fiction writing. Non-arts Participants (n=29) were majors in Marketing Communications or Arts, Entertainment and Media Management. Materials Values-in-Action 24 Character Strengths Inventory. An online version is provided by the Center for Authentic Happiness, University of Pennsylvania, including the Summary Report previously discussed. Student Satisfaction Survey Two pen and paper scales were developed that measured college satisfaction and life satisfaction. Questions regarding life satisfaction included living place, social life, physical condition, number and quality of friends, level of safety in their community, love life, overall


Strong or Smart 9 health, and confidence level (Cronbachs alpha=0.635; n=86). The college satisfaction survey included questions about their major, GPA, competency of their classmates, availability of courses, quality of teaching, advising, the quality of friends met at college, progression towards degree, how much they are learning, and the physical environment, general culture, and reputation of the college (Cronbachs alpha=0.711; n=86). Normally questions about satisfaction with financial situation would have been included if the consequence of the global economic crisis as experienced in the United States had not been so dire for college students. Demographics Demographic questions were included as part of the survey queried sex, race/ethnicity, age, year in college, and educational attainment of parents. Academic Achievement (Grade Point Average) Official GPAs were obtained from the college’s Office of Academic Records. Students provided only their student identification number on all research materials that allowed the Office of Academic Records to identify the GPA for each student and allowed us to match the GPA with the ID code for data analyses. The Lounsbury study used self-reported GPAs that can be susceptible to social desirability effects. Hypotheses We proposed that the Arts sample would exhibit a higher correlation between academic achievement and the character strengths of Love of Learning, Creativity, and Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, greater college satisfaction, and a higher correlation between academic achievement and college and life satisfaction. Procedure During class students filled out the College and Life Satisfaction surveys and completed the online VIA Inventory outside of class. Results were forwarded to us noting only the student’s identification number.


Strong or Smart 10 Results Demographic Differences for Arts and Non-Arts samples For either sample, the age, sex, race/ethnicity of the student, year in college, and educational attainment of parents were correlated but there was no difference between the Arts and Non-arts samples. VIA and Arts versus Non-arts Table 2 lists the differences among the Top 5 character strengths between the Lounsbury study and the current study, including the individual Arts and Non-arts samples. Table 2: Lounsbury, et al. and Values-In-Action Samples: Correlations among GPA, Student Satisfaction and Character Strengths Values-In-Action Sample

Lounsbury GPA

College

Non-arts

Arts

Persistence

Kindness

Kindness

Curiosity

Judgment

Curiosity

Hope

Gratitude

Self-regulation

Hope

Creativity

Openmindness

Learn

Learn

Curiosity

Learn

Prudence

Teamwork

Love

Spirituality

Hope

Zest

Learn

Learn

Forgiveness

Curiosity

Curiosity

Persistence

Spirituality

Humor

Beauty

Prudence

Bravery

Gratitude

Love

Fairness

Hope

Soc. Intelligence

Zest

Zest

Love

Learn

Bravery

Soc. Intelligence

Curiosity

Love

Hope

Prudence

Openmindness

Kindness

Self-regulation

Gratitude

Humor

Modesty

Curiosity

Curiosity

Gratitude

Prudence

Satisfaction Self-regulation

Life

Total

Satisfaction Love

Note: ‘Total’ refers to the full sample wherein major is not accounted for; Character strengths are listed in the order of magnitude of correlation


Strong or Smart 11 The Top 5 character strengths for the current study total sample (n=54), in which major was not accounted for, revealed different findings than the Lounsbury study. As hypothesized, Appreciation of Beauty was among the Top 5 character strengths for both samples. Love of Learning and Creativity were found among the Top 5 strengths for the Arts sample. Social Intelligence was among the Top 5 strengths for the Non-arts sample and will be discussed later. Academic Achievement, VIA, and Student Satisfaction The GPA for the Arts sample was significantly higher than for the Non-arts sample (F=5.249; p<.05) and showed a trend for greater Life Satisfaction (F=3.576; p<.062). GPA was correlated with Curiosity for both the Arts and Non-arts samples but only in the Arts sample was GPA correlated with Love of Learning. In the Arts sample GPA and College Satisfaction were correlated but there was no correlation between College and Life Satisfaction. The opposite was true for the Non-arts in that College and Life Satisfaction were correlated but neither with GPA. The largest difference between Arts and Non-arts samples was found in the correlation of GPA with Creativity (Arts, no correlation; Non-arts, -0.21*) Arts Sample: VIA and GPA, Learn, Creativity and Beauty College Satisfaction was correlated with GPA for the Arts sample but no correlation was found between College Satisfaction and Life Satisfaction (see Table 3). Non-arts sample, on the other hand has a significant correlation between two Satisfaction scores. Table 3 Correlation Among GPA, College Satisfaction and Life Satisfaction Total

GPA College Satisfaction

Arts

College

Life

Satisfaction

Satisfaction Satisfaction

Satisfaction Satisfaction

Satisfaction

.245*

0.01

.294*

0.093

0.204

0.122

1

.302**

1

0.174

1

.451**

*p<.05, **p<.01

College

Life

Non-arts College

Life


Strong or Smart 12

Discussion The Arts sample revealed Beauty, Fairness, Creativity, Gratitude, and Kindness among their top five character strengths whereas Non-arts students indicated Bravery, Humor and Social Intelligence. Arts curricula usually emphasizes individual strengths such as talent whereas marketing and management students learn to be more social agreeable and to be a team player. The difference in character strength presentation is more pronounced when academic discipline is considered as well as the focus of the institution. It is no surprise then that in our study Appreciation for Beauty was among the Top 5 strengths for both Arts and Non-arts samples. The student population of this study is inclined to consider themselves as more creative and expressive than 'regular' students, a self-view reinforced by the college that may encourage novel and somewhat unconventional behavior. Regardless of the declared major, all students are exposed to the culture of the arts and media and are encouraged to be creative. Overall emphasis on creativity in their learning environment may manifest in their appreciation for the importance of aesthetics in general. The difference between the two groups is more pronounced in the correlation between GPA and character strengths. The Arts sample showed a high correlation between GPA and Love of Learning while Non-arts for Self-regulation and Zest. We surmise, as discussed below, that perhaps Maslowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s proposal is accurate. Although the Lounsbury study resulted in only positive correlations, our results indicated several negative ones.1 For example, Arts students with high GPAs exhibited a lower rank for Bravery and Leadership strengths. In contrast, Non-arts students displayed a negative correlation between GPA and Kindness and Modesty. Such results may indicate that intrapersonal strengths are de-emphasized in Non-arts curricula relative to Arts curricula and that the latter, because of the more internal point of reference, do not call for same level of the strengths of kindness or modesty. It is clear to us that the interpretation of negative correlations would benefit from targeted research.

1

But, as noted by Seligman, it is essential to keep in mind that a negative correlation is to be interpreted as â&#x20AC;&#x153;low relative to other strengths for that person. It says nothing about the real level of judgment.â&#x20AC;? (personal communication, May 13, 2010).


Strong or Smart 13 In the examination of the relationship between GPA and Student Satisfaction, the difference between the two groups becomes more informative. First, the Arts majors show virtually no correlation between College and Life Satisfaction whereas Non-arts majors show a strong one (.50, p< .001). One plausible explanation is that the Arts major has a more defined self-identity within each arena of their life, as a student and as a person, and thus their satisfaction as a student is independent of their satisfaction with their life. In contrast, the Nonarts sample, as previously discussed, experience a well-defined external reference point for the evaluation of achievement. The correlation between GPA and respective Satisfaction scores supports the notion that student satisfaction and achievement are related but in the terms of this study, satisfaction may be more influenced by the discipline than otherwise thought. The most interesting (and biggest) difference between Arts and Non-art majors found in the correlations between GPA and VIA is that of Creativity. Creativity was negatively correlated with GPA for Non-arts students while there is no correlation at all among Arts majors. For the Non-arts major, a student with strong Creativity would have a lower GPA than those without Creativity strength (-0.21). This outcome is consistent with our hypothesis that the strength of Creativity is less often called for than that found in Arts curricula. Strengths that are required are developed. The findings from this research support that there are identifiable difference between Arts majors and Non-art majors in terms of prominent character strengths. Replication of our study with a larger sample size seems warranted for closer examination of the benefits of Artsproduction curricula. Expansion of the study to include measures of flow and measures of life satisfaction beyond the college context would allow for closer examination as to what degree flow can be enhanced through the integration of Arts curriculum.


Strong or Smart 14 References Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York, NY: Basic Books. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: Harper Perennial. Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Csikszentmihalyi, I. (Eds.) (2006). A Life Worth Living: Contributions of postive psychology. Oxford Press. DeCarvalho, R. J. (1991). The Founders of Humanistic Psychology. New York, NY: Praeger. Fowler, R.D., Seligman, M. E. P., & Koocher, G. P. (1998). The APA 1998 Annual Report. American Psychologist, 54(8), pp. 537-568. Hamrick, F. A., Evans, N. J., & Schuh, J. H. (2002). Foundations of student affairs practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Lounsbury, J. W.,, Fisher, L. A., Levy, J. J,. & Welsh, D. P. (2009). An investigation of character strengths in relation to the academic success of college students. Individual Differences Research, 7(1), 52-69. Maslow, A. (1962/1998). Toward a Psychology of Being, 3rd Ed. New York, NY: Wiley. Maslow, A. (1971/1993). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York, NY: Penguin Press. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Peterson, C. (2006a). A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Peterson, C. (2006b). The Values-in-Action (VIA) Classification of Strengths: The un-DSM and the real DSM. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.) A life worth living: Contributions to positive psychology (pp. 29-48). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Peterson, C., Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1995). Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


Strong or Smart 15 Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. Seligman, M. E. P. (1992). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Life. New York, NY: Pocket. Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Shneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2),158-176. Steele, J. P., & Fullagar. C. J. (2009). Facilitators and outcomes of student engagement in a college setting. The Journal of Psychology, 143(1), 5-27. Terjesen, M.D., Jocofsky, M., Froh, J., & DiGuiseppe, R. P. (2004). Integrating positive psychology into schools: Implications for practice. Psychology in the Schools, 41(1), 163172.


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