Creation & Psychometric Evaluation of a Nomothetic Spiritual Striving

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Project Lead: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Doctoral Student Researchers: Ryan Thomas and Nathaniel Fernandez

In what ways can personal strivings be assessed?

Part 1

For decades, psychologists have searched for patterns of behavior and thought that represent an especially healthy way of interacting with the world.  In the foundational years of the twenty-first century, this search has crystallized into the positive psychology movement (e.g., Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), a branch of psychological research and practice dedicated to better understanding the adaptive and constructive functions of human thought and behavior.  Whereas much of the research prior to the positive psychology movement was inundated with pessimistic outlooks on humanity’s health, including developing assessment techniques to uncover mental illness, the positive psychology movement has taken a more optimistic view, developing new methods for teasing apart the beneficial facets of human experience.

Emmons (1986) uncovered one such facet in his research into personal goals, which he called personal strivings.  Personal strivings, which consist of the characteristic objectives that people typically try to accomplish in their day-to-day lives, have repeatedly been shown to operate as a marker of subjective personal well-being (Emmons, 1999).  Just maintaining strivings that one values as an important part of one’s life increases positive affect, and a high probability of achieving one’s personal strivings (or the fulfillment of past strivings) is associated with higher life satisfaction (Emmons, 1986).  Additional research has shown that specific domains of personal strivings, such as those oriented towards increasing intimacy or generativity, are correlated with higher levels of positive well-being in those who hold them (Emmons, 1999).

In this research study, we aspire to develop a nomothetic scale to measure personal strivings encompassing multiple domains of the construct.  Using a pool of varied personal strivings that has been developed in conjunction with the seminal authors in this area, we hope to show that a stable factor structure exists for some of the most common personal strivings.  We then hope to apply this factor structure to our data to show that it can be used as an accurate assessment of adolescent personal strivings.

Participants for the current study were recruited from several Young Life groups (in Illinois, Florida, and Michigan) during the summer of 2009 for a previous study. The data from this questionnaire will be analyzed using rational and empirical methods to determine whether the data fit into a stable and reliable factor structure.  An exploratory factor analysis will be employed to determine which items group together under similar categories.  Items with low item-total correlations, nearly duplicate items, and those that do not fit well within our factor structure will be deleted.  If a reliable scale develops out of these analyses, several alternative models will be generated using varied factor structures.  Structural equation modeling (SEM) will be used to identify which of these scale models best fits the data.

Part 2

The study of individual differences has been important for the field of psychology since its inception. To this end the field of personality has struggled to find individual traits which differentiate people’s behaviors. Mischel’s (1968) critique of the trait perspective, though still controversial, highlighted the problems that current trait explanations have in accurately predicting behaviors however. The prevailing Big Five model (McCrae and Costa, 1999), which has dominated conceptualizations of personality for over a decade, has been shown to be very helpful in explaining individual differences. Especially impressive is the fact that the five factor structure shows evidence of cross cultural validity (McCrae, Terracciano, and 78 others, 2005). Despite this however there is still much room for our understanding to grow and for more of individual variance to be explained.

If strivings is to become a relevant and accessible part of the field’s assessment of individuals the field must have a meaningful way to measure it. Leak (2007) generated a 66-item self-report questionnaire on strivings. These items demonstrated some relationships between this measure and meaningful outcomes. Based upon both Emmons’ (1999) theoretical conceptualization and Leak’s (2007) items, Emmons, Schnitker, Barrett, and Porter (2010) created the Spiritual Strivings Questionnaire (SSQ). The SSQ is a nascent scale and is in need of further development but has shown preliminary evidence of its relevance (Emmons, Schnitker, Barrett, and Porter, 2010).

Based upon this evidence, the investigators hypothesize that (a) there exists a stable factor structure for the SSQ, (b) this structure will hold cross culturally, and (c) that strivings will add meaningfully to the understanding of individual differences.

This study makes use of two sets of data gathered previously. Sample 1 consisted of volunteers (N = 212; 131 female, Mage = 15.07, 69.3% Caucasian) who were participants in Young Life camp programs in the US in 2007 and 2008. Sample 2 consisted of a group of volunteer (N = 215; 102 Male, 32 unreported gender, Mage = 17.21) Liberians drawn from participants in Young Life camps in Liberia between 2007 and 2009. Both samples were recruited by local area Young Life leaders.