Assessment of Character Strengths Among Youth: The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC


Nansook Park, University of Rhode Island and Christopher Peterson, University of Michigan

What is character, and how can we measure it? For several years, we have tried to answer these questions. The good news is that we have arrived at what we believe are reasonable answers. The bad news, as it were, is that the answers are neither simple nor final. We offer here a progress report that focuses on our attempt to conceptualize and operationalize the construct of “good character” among youth. To frame this progress report, we start with the following assertions:

  • good character is neither unitary nor discrete
  • rather, character is comprised of a family of positive traits: individual differences that exist in degrees and are manifest in a range of thoughts, feelings, and actions
  • what counts to someone as good character can be influenced by contextual factors like culture, religion, or political persuasion
  • however, some components of good character are ubiquitous and perhaps universal
  • good character is not outside the realm of self-commentary and certainly not a mystery to those in one’s immediate social circle
  • many of the core components of good character are already present as individual differences among young children
  • the manifestations of character nonetheless change across the lifespan

These conclusions have important implications for the assessment of good character.