I am very grateful for the funding I received from CURF to complete my senior thesis, titled “How Can I Improve?: Character Strengths and Openness to Negative Feedback in Childhood.” I worked under the mentorship of Dr. Angela Duckworth, her post-doctoral research fellow Dr. Peter Meindl, and her research coordinator Abigail Quirk. With their help and the funding from CURF, I researched children’s openness to critical feedback and the other character strengths children have that may be associated with it.
I conducted this research using the VIA Character Strength questionnaire, which measures qualities deemed character strengths. I was interested in whether, given the option, people would choose to receive feedback on their highest scoring character strength or their lowest scoring character strength. I first used a test group consisting of adults only. Participants were asked about qualities associated 24 unique character strengths—including honesty, bravery, zest, kindness, and love of learning—and graded themselves on a scale where “1 is not at all like me” and “5 is very much like me.” For example, when it came to the character strength of creativity, the questionnaire used the phrase: “I enjoy creating things that are new and different.” After participants completed the questionnaire, they were asked whether they wanted to hear about one of their highest scoring character strengths, or whether they wanted to hear about one of the lowest scoring character strengths.
The key finding of this part of my project was that among adults, the character strengths of honesty, judgment, and, at a marginal level, perseverance, were correlated with asking for mostly negative feedback. I then moved forward with a similarly sized test group of children, and found the complete opposite of what I predicted. Children across the board not only scored themselves higher on almost all character strengths, they also asked for way more positive than negative feedback.