Character Strengths, Self-Schemas, and Psychological Well Being: A Multi-Method Approach
Berman, Jason Scott
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Positive Psychology is a recent movement within academic psychology that broadens the scope of psychological science to include the correlates and causes of human flourishing as credible topics for investigation. One major area of inquiry in positive psychology is the study of character strengths and virtues. Character strengths are virtuous, nomothetic traits, such as kindness, gratitude, vitality and hope some of which each person individually possesses much like a written signature leading to the name, "signature strengths." The current research investigated ways that such signature strengths were integrated into an individual's overall self-concept through self-schemas. Self-schemas are personally important, domain specific, self-definitions that organize and guide the processing of self-related information from the individual's social experience. The content of self-schemas (e.g. "I am independent" "I am kind" "I am lovable") varies widely among individuals (because past experiences vary) and therefore people have divergent views of self chronically accessible or salient to guide current life experience. The primary research question of this study was whether individuals for whom signature character strengths were a salient or highly accessible part of their self-schemas would experience increased psychological well-being and decreased depressive symptoms. Self-schemas are assessed through both self-report and non-self-report measures (e.g. reaction time, free recall, recognition, likert self-description scales) which are helpful for character strengths research that has typically relied on self-report data. Psychological well-being, an outcome variable in the current study, is a concept similar to life satisfaction. Reaction time, free recall, recognition memory and self-report measures were used to assess the salience of strengths within participant self-schemas. Participants were 298 university students. Results largely indicated that individuals with character strengths highly accessible within their self-schemas predicted increased well-being and decreased depressive symptoms with self-report methods as the most consistent predictors. These results demonstrated that character strengths operate at the level of self-referential processing and that signature strengths, highly salient within self-schemas, meaningfully related to increased emotional well-being and global happiness. Ideas are discussed of ways to open clinical psychology's traditional focus on the pathological self to include a self rich in character strengths and virtues.