As noted in the funding competition announcement, the scientific study of virtue, as well as the assessment of virtue education programs, has been constrained by lack of consensus for and availability of valid and cost-effective measurement tools. The goal of the present proposal is to address this limitation through examining the potential of simple behavioral measures of the virtues of compassion and gratitude/thanksgiving to function as valid assessment instruments capable of capturing meaningful individual differences.
We have previously developed behavioral measures for compassion and gratitude that present real-time costs to individuals. That is, they require effort to be exerted over selected periods of time either to aid or benefit others. As such, these measures are immune to the biases typically associated with self-report and forecasting measures of behavioral intentions and emotional states. In the past, we have shown how manipulations of the target emotional states of compassion and gratitude alter responses on these tasks However, we have never examined individual differences on these tasks as a function of dispositional tendencies to experience gratitude or compassion. Much as Walter Mischel's famous yet simple “marshmallow” test has been shown to assess differences in the ability to delay gratification and to predict associated outcomes of this ability across many domains, we propose to evaluate modifications of our current lab-based measures of gratitude and compassion to serve a similar purpose. Specifically, we plan to use experience sampling, structured social media interactions, observational, and informant-reporting techniques to scale responses to the one-off behavioral measures in an effort to determine their usefulness as valid indices of virtue. Our goal is to provide readily accessible, low cost tools to gauge individual variability in these virtues for both scientific and practical applications.