The role of social support and purpose in the promotion of character development.
Abstract: Positive purpose during adolescence can lead to a variety of
positive outcomes, such as prosocial behavior, moral commitment, character, and competence
(Damon, 2003). A review of the literature suggests that three components of positive
purpose are important to examine further: presence of meaning in life,
goal–directedness, and contribution to the world beyond the self. In addition,... read moresocial networks have the potential to foster purpose, which, in turn, promotes positive
youth development (PYD), and these potential contextual influences merit investigation.
Accordingly, this research sought to understand the importance of purpose and social
support from family, peers, and religious communities in the formation of character, one of
the defining features of PYD (Bowers et al., 2010; Lerner et al., 2005; Phelps et al.,
2009). Data from 430 participants between the ages of 10 and 19 years from the John
Templeton Foundation–sponsored study of the Role of Spiritual Development in the
Growth of Purpose, Generosity, and Psychological Health in Adolescence were used in the
current research. Hierarchical regression analyses, using multiple imputation (MI) methods
to account for missing data (Rubin, 1976), were used to assess the role of social support
and the presence of meaning in life (one component of purpose) in youth character status.
Analyses indicated that religious social support and presence of meaning in life were
positively associated with higher reported scores of character status, after accounting for
demographic characteristics. In addition, four qualitative case studies were presented to
illustrate how adolescents on either end of the character status continuum (i.e., scores
reflecting either high or low levels of character) engaged in “positive
purpose” behaviors (i.e., contribution behavior and goal–directedness).
Case studies indicated relationships among instances of goal–directed behavior,
contribution to others, and character strengths in participants with higher character
status scores. On the other hand, reflections of goal–directedness and
contribution to others were less prevalent in the case studies of participants with lower
character status scores. Limitations of the current cross–sectional data set and
implications of the quantitative and qualitative findings for practical application are
discussed. Future research should focus on mixed method, longitudinal data in order to
explore the concept of character development rather than character status. In addition,
survey items and interview questions that specifically ask participants to elucidate the
relationship among social support, purpose, and character development in their lives should
be included. Finally, issues for the practical application of the present findings are
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of Child Development.
Advisors: Richard Lerner, and David Henry Feldman.
Committee: David O'Leary, and Jennifer Menon Mariano.
Keyword: Developmental Psychology.read less