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VIA strengths assessment tool

VIA strengths assessment tool

VIA is one of the three evidence based assessments to explore personal strengths

 VIA survey by VIA Institute on Character
This post will tell you a bit more about discovering your strengths using the VIA strengths assessment tool and it’s main advantages and disadvantages. If you wish to learn more on the topic of strengths:

VIA survey by VIA Institute on Character is focused on discovering which of the 24 strengths that this survey is looking into are the individual’s “signature strengths”. The 24 strengths can be seen on the image below.

According to VIA Institute,
“Your signature strengths are those strengths that best describe the positive aspects of who you are. These strengths are strong capacities in you and they are probably engaging, energizing, and comfortable for you to use. Finding ways to use and express these strengths is likely to bring you many benefits, and can help you create your best life.”

VIA is a solid base to start to explore your strengths. The survey is based on Seligman’s and Peterson’s work described in the book Character Strengths and Virtues.

VIA classification of 24 character strengths

Image 1. – The VIA Classification of 24 Character Strengths (VIA, 2015)

As much of positive psychology science, the research of human strengths is a fairly new area in psychology, mainly kicked off by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson in 2004.

Seligman started with the idea that positive psychology lacked a common vocabulary for discussing measurable positive traits before 2004 – a bit like traditional psychology had in form of DSM , Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, all-comprehensive list on psychological disorders that provided researchers and clinicians with the same set of language from which they could talk about these. Seligman and Peterson concluded that positive psychology would benefit of a similar “dictionary”, so they decided to identify, organize and measure positive character traits.

They started by defining the notion of character as traits that are possessed by an individual and are stable over time, but can still be impacted by setting and thus are subject to change. They went through lengthy process of identifying character strengths and virtues – all from brainstorming with a group of noted positive psychology scholars, to examining ancient cultures (including their religions, politics, education and philosophies). Based on this work, they concluded that there are six core virtues present in humanity: courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence and wisdom. This was followed by a model of classification of character traits – each of the six virtues was associated with the set of identified character strengths, which are, “the psychological processes or mechanisms that define the virtues”.

VIA classification of character strengths

Image 2. – Full list of the strengths according to VIA Institute on Character

In order to identify individual character strengths, they started by brainstorming with a group of noted positive psychology scholars in order to generate a list of human strengths, went through an detailed literature search for work that directly addresses good character in the domains of, “psychiatry, youth development, philosophy and psychology” (work of of Abraham MaslowErik Erikson, Ellen Greenberger, Marie Jahoda, Carol Ryff, Michael Cawley, Howard GardnerShalom Schwartz) and after that consulted with Gallup Organization, which was looking into strengths for a while already. In the end they even looked for virtue-focused messages in popular culture, such as Hallmark greeting cards, personal ads, graffiti, bumper stickers and even profiles of Pokémon characters.

​The result of this was very abundant list of ‘candidate strengths’. To narrow the list down to “true strengths”, Peterson & Seligman developed a list of 10 criteria of what the strength should be.

The criteria that character strengths should be fulfilling are:
1. fulfilling
2. intrinsically valuable, in an ethical sense (gifts, skills, aptitudes, and expertise can be squandered, but character strengths and virtues cannot);
3. non-rivalrous;
4. not the opposite of a desirable trait (a counterexample is steadfast and flexible, which are opposites but are both commonly seen as desirable);
5. trait-like (habitual patterns that are relatively stable over time);
6. not a combination of the other character strengths in the CSV;
7. personified (at least in the popular imagination) by people made famous through story, song, etc.;
8. observable in child prodigies (though this criterion is not applicable to all character strengths);
9. absent in some individuals;
10. and nurtured by societal norms and institutions

This criteria enabled them to define a final list of 24 strengths, the one you can see presented on the images in this article.

If you are curious to explore deeper into their research and conclusions, look into the book Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Beware, the book is very comprehensive and it’s aim is to present a measure of humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner.

As for the questionnaire itself, VIA questionnaire presents the same list of 24 strengths, following Seligman’s and Peterson’s work.
It provides two options for the report: free one, which will just provides the ranked list of own strengths, and the paid one, which is a bit more comprehensive and also provides you with many ideas on how to use or work on own strengths.

If you are interested in how this survey compares to the similar strengths assessment tools, check out Strengths based approach 103 – Strengths Assessment Tools for comparison of different tools to explore personal strengths.

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