Transforming performance profiles into the VIA framework of character strengths: an ideographic and nomothetic combined approach

Update: The journal article associated with this blog post has since been published and is freely available (click here)

The slides below were presented at the December 2017 meeting of the British Psychological Society, Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology (DSEP), Glasgow.  (see below for slide notes)


Objectives: Due to its person-centred nature, data obtained through performance profiling is entwined in individual meaning and cannot easily be compared across individuals and groups. This study tests whether performance profiles can be transformed into the Values in Action (VIA) framework of character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), to result in a single approach that is able to explore nomothetic hypotheses, whilst still benefiting from its ideographic roots.

Design: Single sample.

Methods: Participants were 116 young people (Mage = 19.90, SD = 2.28, 56.9% female) who were living in supported accommodation and taking part in MST4Life, a 10-week strengths-based programme.  Performance profiling was used pre/post programme, along with measures of resilience, self-worth, and life satisfaction. Performance profiles were deductively categorised into the VIA framework, providing each participant with scores across the 24-VIA character strengths.

Results: 1192 different terms were used in reference to character strengths, 98% of which were categorised into the VIA framework.  Bravery, perseverance, and hope were most frequently listed, whilst temperance and courage received the highest discrepancy scores. Discrepancy scores were positively correlated with resilience, self-worth, and life satisfaction, which all improved significantly over time.

Conclusions: Aligned with personal construct psychology, an ideographic approach to assessing character strengths is vital to account for varying terminology and individual meanings. However, character strengths identified through performance profiling can be successfully transformed into a nomothetic framework, enabling the exploration of generalisations and therefore greater versatility for the use of performance profiling within and outside of sport.


Slide notes:

Slide 1:

This presentation is about the well known tool performance profiling (PP), and how we have adapted its use to increase its potential. Please note that this presentation assumes the audience is familiar with the performance profiling technique (if you are not, please refer to the references provided at the end).

Slide 2:

PP can be considered an ideographic research approach.

An ideographic approach involves seeking to understanding the individual and their personal constructs, which is typically achieved with qualitative methods.

In contrast, nomothetic approaches are more concerned with discovering universal truth, looking for commonalities between people, and is more associated with quantitative methods and generating mean scores.

Slide 3:

We use performance profiling to support homeless young people in identifying their character strengths, as a key part of a positive youth development programme called my strengths training for life.

We choose to use PP, as opposed to one of the various questionnaires available for all the reasons why it’s so often used with athletes (for example, it being more autonomy supportive and intrinsically motivating, young people can use their own language etc, aspects which are particularly beneficial when engaging disadvantaged youth in research).

Slide 4:

Despite these benefits of PP,  an inherent  issue with the data produced, is that… (quote on slide)

As we operate a mixed-method research programme, where as well as understanding the individual, we also have research and evaluation questions to address that require aggregating across individuals

These sorts of questions (see slide) are problematic to answer using the ideographic data generated from PP, as there are lots of different terminologies and meanings are used (e.g., some might say street wise in reference to confidence, some might use the term confidence and mean social skills), due to the unique meanings it’s very hard to group terms and say, right everyone who used confidence is referring to the same thing and that is different from those who have included resilience within their performance profiles.

So our research problem is that we want the benefits of both worlds. That is, the benefits of performance profiling, along with the ability to answer some of these quantitative research questions that are more associated with nomothetic enquiry.

Slide 5:

The solution we came up with was to collect data using performance profiling and then transform that data into a standardised, nomothetic framework.

One of the most popular frameworks is the VIA classification of character strengths– which outlines 24 different groups of character strength, which are further organized into six virtues.

For example, the virtue temperance contains the characteristics…

And the VIA framework has been widely tested in various cultures around the world.

Slide 6:


Slide 7:


Slide 8:

We used Jones (1993) version of performance profiling, where for each characteristic a discrepancy score is calculated based on scores out of 10 for importance, ideal and current levels.

Changed the name to strengths profiling to reflect the fact that we are referring characteristics related to life in general not sport performance.

Participants completed a strengths profile at the beginning and end of the strengths training for life programme.

Slide 9:

After collecting the strengths profiling data, we went through each characteristic one-by-one, and deductively categorized it into the VIA framework, based on the individual meaning provided by the participant.

This meant that we could calculate a mean score for each person for each of the 6 virtues (across the top).

Slide 10:

To give an example, one participant used the term attentive, which to them meant… (see slide)

And this best fitted the VIA characteristic ‘perseverance’, according to the VIA definition.

We also found that sometimes multiple characteristics fitted the same VIA character strength (see slide) within their strengths profile, which when looking at the meanings they were all overlapping and fitted the same VIA character strength perseverance.

Slide 11:


Slide 12:

This graph shows the frequency VIA character strengths featured within the strengths profiles.

Character strengths related to the virtues courage and temperance were listed significantly more than any other category (p < .001; M = 3.72)

Slide 13:

When looking at baselines scores, courage and temperance also stood out as having the highest scores out of ten for importance, yet lowest for current level, and therefore highest discrepancy scores.

Slide 14:

From pre to post intervention, there were also significant and meaningful improvements in all but the wisdom and knowledge virtues.

The most meaningful improvements were evident in the courage, temperance, and transcendence virtues, which is inline with the focus of the activities during the intervention.

Slide 15:

To sum up, we found that young people engaged very well with strengths profiling,

This was evidenced by the fact that everyone who attending the session in which we introduced strengths profiling, completed a profile,

Secondly, a previous study by Tweet et al, tired to identify VIA character strengths in a homeless population using focus groups and only managed to identify just over 1 character strength per participant, compared to over 7 in the present study with strengths profiling, suggesting strengths profiling may be a more effective approach to identifying character strengths in this population.

Slide 16:

We would recommend the VIA as a framework as a way of further elaborating on the characteristics identified through performance profiling.

To gain the benefits of a combined ideographic/nomothetic approach.

Slide 17:

In our current research we are exploring this area further.

We have taken a group of individuals receiving a strengths-based intervention, and randomly allocated them to either a condition where their strengths are identified using strengths profiling, or a condition where they use the VIA survey to identify their character strengths, and then we are measuring whether or not the process of strengths identification has an impact on autonomy, intentions to use and develop their signature strengths, well-being etc.

Slide 18:


Slide 19:


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