Virtue Interventions in Adolescent Athletes

Context and Framing Effects


Project Dates

January 2015–December 2017

Research Team
  • Sarah Schnitker, Principal Investigator
  • Benjamin Houltberg, Co-Investigator
  • Amber Blews, Student Researcher
  • Luke Davidiuk, Student Researcher
  • Thoms J. Felke, Student Researcher
  • Nathaniel Fernandez, Research Fellow
  • Nanyamka Redmond, Research Fellow
  • Abigail Shepherd, Research Fellow


Project Overview

This three-year research project examined the best ways to develop character strengths and virtues in adolescents, whether extracurricular activities impact teens’ lives in positive ways and increase certain virtues such as patience and self-control. The study—the first of its kind to be focused on youth—allowed our research team to conduct an experimental study with adolescents in the greater Pasadena area, as well as with those who trained for Team World Vision’s half-marathon; develop a youth-focused smartphone application to promote character development; and propose additional studies that will bring together scholars and youth professionals.

Our research team scientifically tested 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. The phone app, CharacterMe—used during the 2015-2016 research phase—played an important role in collecting this research data by helping adolescents improve patience and self-control in their daily lives, which our researchers hoped would be helpful for teens and would encourage others to develop technology to help teens live healthier lives.

At the end of the grant, the research team’s aim was 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.

Our study findings are presented in the following publications:

Thrive Center faculty and students have also brought this research to lay audiences of athletes, coaches, and parents through various community talks. Our research team has built connections with Hope Sports, Fuller Youth Institute, USA National Junior Swimming, Nashville Coaching Coalitions, IMG Academy, local high schools, elite sport clubs, and several university sport programs. These connections are producing an unanticipated result: considerable impact on the elite athletic community, especially through Dr. Houltberg’s presentations to Olympians, professional athletes, and elite-level coaches. This impact may be highly strategic in changing the zeitgeist of elite athletics, which can trickle down to produce a broad, long-term impact in the culture of youth and college-level sports.


Funded By

This study was made possible through a generous grant by the John Templeton Foundation.

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