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Character Development in Adolescence

Educators often emphasize that young people need to develop character to succeed in school and life. Yet there is a shortage of scientifically-based knowledge about how adolescents develop the character strengths that contribute to success. The Character Development in Adolescence Project (CDAP) included a three year study of middle and high school students that established scientifically valid methods for assessing key adolescent character strengths: purpose, grit, self-control, gratitude, and actively open-minded thinking. It used these assessments to follow the development of these character strengths over a formative period of adolescence, and learned how different character strengths relate to one another in this phase of development.

The research component of CDAP is part of a broader initiative to cultivate character in schools. A second component of the project applied findings from the research to practice. Our affiliate, Character Lab, used our findings to run intervention studies and other educational experiments under the direction of David Levin, co-founder of the KIPP charter school network, and Dominic Randolph, Head at Riverdale Country School. The project's methods and findings were immediately used in structuring Character Lab’s work with educators and youth development practitioners. To disseminate this work, Character Lab sponsored practitioners to use and further test the character assessment instruments developed through this project.

Co-Principal Investigators:

  • Professor William Damon: Director, Center on Adolescence, Stanford University
  • Professor Angela Duckworth: Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

Sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation

What does purpose look like in early adolescence? Read responses from our study participants about what gives them purpose in life.

Character in Adolescence: What is it? Can we measure it? And why should schools care about it, anyway?

View a conversation with Angela Duckworth and Bill Damon, presented Thursday, February 27, 2014.