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The VIA Institute is a not-for-profit organization established by Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Christopher Peters in 2001. They wanted to create a research institute that focuses on investigating positive human strengths rather than on categorizing deficits and disorders. They originally created the VIA Adult Survey of 240 items based on their research into Character Strengths and Virtues.
The VIA Character Strengths Youth Survey was later developed to reach a wide range of respondents and so, to open up more research opportunities. The survey aims to help participants recognize their strengths and for them to then learn how to capitalize on these. The survey is free www.viacharacter.org, it is focused on youths aged between 10 – 17 years old and is available in 18 different languages. The original survey had a total of 198 items, however the new amended version has 96 items in order to improve usability.
In order for the survey to be scored, all questions must be completed. The items use a 5-point Likart Scale ranging from; “Very much like me” to “Not like me at all”. A sample item, “I am not a show off” asks the respondent to decide how much the statement is like them. The instructions state that there is no right or wrong answer and asks the respondent to be as honest as possible. If the participant receives a high score on a certain scale, it means that they strongly identify with that scales associated strengths. A score report is delivered with feedback, ranking the participants character strengths from 1 – 24 with the top 4 – 7 strengths considered as signature strengths.
The short form comprises of 4 items for each of the 24 character strengths. From a sample of 12,549 youth surveys, 4 items were selected with the highest corrected item-total correlations from each of the 24 character strength scales. These items were all then reworded to make them easier to understand. Findings showed that the 96 item VIA Youth Survey is more efficient and equally valid than the 198 item VIA Youth Survey. This new short form was compared to the original 198-item form in 2 samples (n = 157 & n = 172 – mean age 15 years). The results were nearly exactly the same with reliability alpha coefficients ranging from 0.69 (Social Intelligence) to 0.95 (Spirituality) across 2 samples for each of the 24 Character strengths. Test-Retest reliability over a 4-month period was > 0.70.
A supplementary report for helping youth with developmental disabilities was recently created to assist in making the survey more accessible to as many individuals as possible. Some suggestions this report offers include: dividing the measure into smaller sections; reading the items allowed to the youth; providing words of neutral encouragement ie “your best guess is fine” and dividing the responses into a two part decision ie “is this like you or NOT like you?”. There are also item specific recommendations such as: “I am a show off” instead of “I am not a show off”, thus eliminating the negative and “I am excited about many things” instead of “I have a lot of enthusiasm”, which makes the wording easier to understand.