Templeton Foundation Awards Three-Year Research Grant to Fuller Seminary’s Thrive Center

Sarah Schnitker

Fuller Theological Seminary’s Thrive Center for Human Development received a three-year, $780,159 research grant in January from the Templeton Foundation to examine the best ways to develop character strengths and virtues in adolescents. The study—the first of its kind to be focused on youth—is led by. Sarah Schnitker, assistant professor of psychology and program director for PhD studies in Psychological Science, in collaboration with Benjamin Houltberg, assistant professor of human development, from 2015 to 2017.

The grant, titled Virtue Interventions in Adolescent Athletes: Context and Framing Effects, allows Dr. Schnitker and Dr. Houltberg’s research team to conduct an experimental study with adolescents in the greater Pasadena area as well as with those who are training for Team World Vision’s half-marathon, to develop a youth-focused smartphone application about character development, and to propose additional studies that will bring together scholars and youth professionals. Schnitker stated that the study examines “whether extracurricular activities increase important character virtues such as patience and self-control. Does being a part of these activities impact your life in positive ways? Do the ways in which you look at these activities make a difference in how these activities impact your life?”

Schnitker and Houltberg’s team will scientifically test the types of contexts that can promote or hinder character strength development as well as the most impactful ways to frame character and virtue development activities when presenting them to adolescents. Their team will begin collecting data this fall. The phone app—which will be released soon—will play an important role in collecting this research data by helping adolescents improve patience and self-control in their daily lives, which the researchers hope “will be helpful for teenagers and will also encourage others to develop cool technology to help teens live happier and healthier lives.” By the end of the grant, the research team aims to have an increased understanding of what tools and interventions successfully promote character virtues in youth (particularly those in sports), to engage other researchers in exploring important questions about sports, to create additional useful technology that can improve the lives of youth, and to better understand the role of spirituality and religion in positive youth development.

“It is often taken for granted that it is important to get youth involved in after-school activities and that sports, in particular, is an important context for character development,” Houltberg says. “However, the jury is still out on whether involvement in activities alone is related to positive youth development. This study will shed light on what is working in these programs and examine the impact of being intentional about shaping sporting experiences in moral and spiritual ways.”

The Thrive Center for Human Development was established in 2011 in Fuller’s Graduate School of Psychology with a dual mission to study human thriving and translate research into tangible resources. The Thrive Center team is motivated not just by the generation of knowledge about thriving, but the desire to impact real youth and world communities–with their defining question being ”How do young people develop into thriving adults?” The center seeks to promote positive child and youth development through basic and applied research and the creation of interventions and resources for parents, educators, ministers, youth workers and other adults who invest in kids.

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