Life Paths Research Project
The project abstract:
The goal of this project is to conduct a comprehensive, definitive mixed-methods evaluation of the Laws of Life Essay program. Using research on “turning points” and expressive writing as a basis for the evaluation, we will interview participants from across the 25-year history of the Laws of Life contest in Franklin County, Tennessee, and compare them to a group of similar nonparticipants from the surrounding area. We will use structured surveys, in-depth interviews, and content analysis of available essays. We will determine whether there is an overall positive benefit to program participation in terms of (a) character development, (b) spiritual and emotional well-being and (c) ability to cope with adversities when they arise. We will also examine the developmental trajectory of these outcomes, including whether short-term outcomes differ from long-term outcomes and whether those participants who are now in middle adulthood reflect on the experience differently from more recent participants.
We hope this project will advance narrative, character development, and resilience research.
The full study includes 3000 participants ages 12 to 45 who were recruited from Franklin County, TN and the surrounding area. This is the age span of participants who might have participated in the Laws of Life Essay Contest in its 25-year history (people who would have been in 8th – 12th grade in the last 25 years). Both essay program participants and a comparison sample of non-participants have been recruited. We have currently finished data collection.
The full study includes 200 semi-structured qualitative interviews. These interviews focus on narratives of character and coping across the lifespan.
Recruitment and procedure
We used multiple methods to contact people, including a local advertising campaign, alerting people about the study over radio, newspaper, mass mailings, a website, and data collection at local festivals. Multiple methods currently work best to contact a sufficiently large sample, especially when some pre-screening is necessary. We offered an incentive of $30 per participant for completing the structured interview, an incentive that is common in surveys of this type. Participants who completed the qualitative interview were offered $50 for the longer in-depth interview.
We have a survey instrument that includes a number of new measures of character strengths (generous behavior, meaning making, generativity) and resilience. Resilience research has too often focused on negative characteristics. We are using insights from the field of positive psychology to develop a more strengths-based approach to character development and coping.
Please email us if you would like more information about our measures: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our Strengths Measures page for a complete list of measures that were used and to download our measures as well.