Personal Projects and the Development of Virtue

Personal Projects and the Development of Virtue: How Characteristic Adaptations Enact and Encourage Virtue

Co-PI: Colin DeYoung, Ph.D.

Psychology, University of Minnesota

(Email)

Co-PI: Moin Syed, Ph.D.

Psychology, University of Minnesota

(Email)

Co-PI: Valerie Tiberius, Ph.D.

Philosophy, University of Minnesota

(Email)

View a proposal of this project, presented at the SMV Project’s 2015 Interdisciplinary Moral Forum. Visit our YouTube channel for more.

What constitutes virtue and well-being? Do they develop together? These questions have been debated by philosophers for centuries and continue to be an active area of inquiry among philosophers and psychologists. One point of agreement is that success in at least some of one’s personal projects (such as in relationships, occupation, or education) is crucial for well-being. Further, a broad view of virtue is that it reflects qualities that aid one in pursuing personal projects or in helping others to pursue theirs. We build on these general observations to study the development of virtue in young adulthood, by using an innovative methodology to study the details of people’s personal projects. This method, Personal Projects Analysis (PPA), combines qualitative assessment of people’s various idiosyncratic projects with quantitative assessments of various qualities of each project. PPA allows a thorough mapping of people’s characteristic adaptations, that is, the various goals, interpretations, and strategies that contribute to their projects and that constitute a crucial but understudied component of the self.

We will administer PPA to a sample of 200 undergraduates four times over the course of two years. Our hypothesis is that the development of virtue will be more evident in characteristic adaptations than it is in traits because characteristic adaptations are more malleable and change more quickly. Additionally, we will test whether a future-authoring intervention, designed to help people envision their ideal future and hone their goals and strategies, can facilitate the development of virtue. Half of our sample will be randomly assigned to participate in the future-authoring intervention after the second assessment, whereas the other half will complete a control task. We hypothesize that characteristic adaptations expressed in personal projects will become more virtuous following the intervention, relative to the control group. If a brief intervention has a measurable effect on the development of virtue, it may provide a powerful tool for improving human life.

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