International Journal of Psychology, 2015 Vol. 50, No. 4, 272–278, DOI: 10.1002/ijop.12096
Relations between virtues and positive mental health in a Korean population: A Multiple Indicators Multiple Causes (MIMIC) model approach Young-Jin Lim Department of Psychology, Daegu University, Gyengbuk, Korea
Multiple Indicators Multiple Causes (MIMIC) approach was applied to investigate the relationship between virtues and positive mental health as determined using the Character Strength Test and the Mental Health Continuum-Short Form. The study participants were 876 college students (54% women; overall mean age [SD] 21.50 years [2.35]) recruited from introductory psychology courses at two universities in Seoul. Findings revealed that the intellectual virtues of college students predicted subjective well-being according to all emotional, social and psychological measures. Results are discussed in the context of previous work using the Values in Action classification of virtues and character strengths. In addition, implications regarding understanding the nature and possible origins of positive mental health are outlined. Keywords: Virtues; Positive mental health; Korean.
Virtues are defined as morally good and positive traits or qualities that are valued across cultures. Several different approaches have been used to study virtues according to research tradition (Krueger, Hicks, & McGue, 2001; Narvaez & Lapsley, 2005; Rich, 2003; Walker & Pitts, 1998), and one of the most systematic models of virtues, the Values in Action model was developed by Peterson and Seligman (2004). According to this model, virtues consist of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. These six virtues are evidenced by 24 character strengths (CSs), which are referred to as observable personality facets in specific thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Shryack, Steger, Krueger, & Kallie, 2010). It has been previously reported that a perspective that focuses on virtues instead of deficits empowers individuals and that helping individuals recognise and develop their virtues increases happiness (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Mental health has long been described as the absence of psychopathology. However, according to several models of mental health, mental health and mental disorder are connected but separate constructs (Markon, Krueger, & Watson, 2005; Tellegen & Waller, 2008). Recent evidence supports this view by showing that individuals with a mental disorder report high levels of subjective well-being
(Lamers, Westerhof, Bohlmeijer, ten Klooster, & Keyes, 2010). The Mental Health Continuum model (Keyes, 2005) describes mental health in three dimensions of subjective well-being: emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being. Emotional well-being is defined as an optimal emotional state, psychological well-being as optimal functioning in private life and social well-being as optimal functioning in social life. According to Keyes (2005), these dimensions collectively denote the presence and absence of mental health. The presence of mental health, a condition described as flourishing in life, is a state in which an individual feels positive emotion towards life and is functioning well both psychologically and socially. The absence of mental health, a condition described as languishing in life, is a state in which an individual is devoid of positive emotion towards life and is not functioning well psychologically or socially. Research studies on relationships between virtues and subjective well-being are now beginning to emerge (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010; Chan, 2009). Although the causal relationship between virtue and mental health remains unclear, prior evidences indicate that virtue is a significant predictor of positive mental health (Gillham et al., 2011). One study reported significant predictive roles for all virtues, except temperance and wisdom, on positive
Correspondence should be addressed to Young-Jin Lim, Department of Psychology, Daegu University, Gyengbuk 712-714, Korea. (E-mail: [email protected]
). This research was supported by the Daegu University Research Grant, 2014.
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affect and life satisfaction (the components of emotional well-being; Chan, 2009). In another study, it was found that the virtues of vitality, cautiousness, interpersonal strengths and fortitude were latent factors that showed the most robust links with life satisfaction (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010). However, comparatively little attention has been paid to the relation between virtues and social well-being or psychological well-being. Given that social well-being and psychological well-being are evaluations of one’s function other than one’s emotion, relationships between virtues and social well-being or psychological well-being are likely to differ from those between virtues and emotional well-being. It has been suggested that the same behaviours might represent different functions in different cultures (Cheung, van de Vijver, & Leong, 2011). Regarding virtue structure, different structures have been identified among different samples (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010; Littman-Ovadia & Lavy, 2012; Shryack et al., 2010), which suggest the need to re-examine virtue structures in Asian countries. In Korea, there are four cardinal virtues, namely, benevolence, wisdom, righteousness and propriety (Brown & Kil, 2002). Benevolence (Korean In) involves love and compassion for people and is similar to the virtue of humanity in the Values in Action model. Wisdom (Korean Chi) means the knowledge by which an individual differentiates right from wrong or good from evil. This virtue is similar to the virtue of wisdom in the Values in Action model. Righteousness (Korean Eui) denotes thinking and acting from one’s own perspective and involves the self-control required to resist temptation, a readiness to meet obligations and sensible action. Righteousness does not correspond to one virtue in the Values in Action system but involves the CSs of several of these virtues (e.g. justice and temperance). Propriety (Korean Yae) involves social norms and includes loyalty, respect and fraternal duty. There is no virtue that corresponds to this in the Values in Action model. According to Brown and Kil (2002), the CS of social responsibility is related to the virtue of temperance in traditional Korean culture, whereas the CS of social responsibility is a factor of the virtue of justice in the original Values in Action system. Furthermore, different virtue structures might have affect patterns of relations between virtues and subjective well-being that possibly depend on values appreciated in specific cultures (Hool, 2011). For example, the concept of well-being comes from a collectivistic notion in Korean culture, whereas the concept of well-being comes from an individualistic notion in western society. This study was undertaken to investigate associations between virtues and positive mental health in Korean university students. To achieve this, the factor structure of CSs among Korean students was explored, and the power of virtues to predict positive mental health was investigated. I expected that the virtues derived from this © 2014 International Union of Psychological Science
study would be associated with the presence of positive mental health. METHODS Participants The participants were 876 college students recruited from introductory psychology courses at two universities in South Korea. All were between 17 and 29 years of age (mean age [SD] 21.50 [2.35]) and 54% were female. No data was obtained on the clinical backgrounds of these participants. All 876 students were included in the analysis undertaken to explore factor structures of virtues with data obtained using the Character Strength Test (CST; Kwon, Yu, Lim, & Kim, 2010) only. Of the 876 participants, 348 college students who completed both the CST and the Korean version of the Mental Health Continuum-Short Form (K-MHC-SF; Lim, Go, Shin, & Cho, 2012) were included in the analysis of relationships between virtue and mental health. These 348 participants were aged between 17 and 29 years (mean age [SD] of 21.99 [2.28]) and 68% were female. Measures The Character Strength Test (CST) The CST (Kwon et al., 2010) is a well-performing, 240-item self-report questionnaire. The scale consists of 4-point Likert-style items that measure the degree to which respondents endorse each of the 24 CSs in the Values in Action classification (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Each CS is measured using 10 items. Individuals are asked to report on the degree to which statements reflecting each of the CSs apply to themselves. The 24 scales for the CST have satisfactory alphas (>.70), and a range of test–retest correlations for 4-week interval testing of .62 ∼ .87 (Kwon et al., 2010). The Korean version of the Mental Health Continuum- Short Form (K-MHC-SF) The MHC-SF was developed by Keyes et al. (2008) to measure comprehensive dimensions of well-being using a small number of items. This scale is a well-performing self-report questionnaire designed to assess and evaluate the frequency of symptoms of subjective well-being over a 1-month period. Respondents rate the frequency of every feeling during the previous month using a 6-point Likert scale (never, once or twice a month, about once a week, two or three times a week, almost every day and every day). Items were translated into Korean and again back into English to ensure comparability. The
MHC-SF contains 14 items (three items on emotional well-being, six items on psychological well-being, and five items on social well-being) and each item represents one dimension of the three components of well-being. The Korean version of the MHC-SF (K-MHC-SF; Lim et al., 2012) has a Cronbach coefficient of .93 and a test–retest reliability of .72. Procedure Students completed the battery of psychological measures in a classroom setting, during class time, using a pen or pencil. Researchers were available to answer any questions while students completed the questionnaires. All scales were completed within 40 minutes and were then returned to researchers. Informed consent was obtained from all participants before any assessments were performed. Data analyses Previous studies on the structure of the Values in Action classification have returned inconsistent results, and therefore, prior to major analyses, the structure of the CST was tested using exploratory factor analysis (EFA). Furthermore, because CST subscales generally show moderate correlation, an oblique (promax) rotation was used. Multiple indicators multiple causes (MIMIC) analysis was used to test the association between virtues and positive mental health. Goodness of fit of the MIMIC model was calculated using the Comparative Fit Index (CFI), the Tucker–Lewis Index (TLI) and the Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) method (Schermelleh-Engel, Moosbrugger, & Müller, 2003). RESULTS The structure of CSs EFA showed that four factors had eigenvalues greater than 1 (10.32, 2.50, 1.90 and 1.40). In the parallel analysis, eigenvalues for the first four factors in actual data exceeded the corresponding eigenvalues in the randomly ordered data. Several criteria indicated that the four-factor solution had the best optimal structure (Ledesma & Valero-Mora, 2007). The rotated factor loadings of this four-factor solution are shown in Table 1. CSs with factor loadings
TABLE 1 Promax rotated loadings (four-factor model)a Factor I Interpersonal strengths Social intelligence Kindness Humour Love Leadership Vitality Optimism Restraint strengths Prudence Self-regulation Openness Modesty Perseverance Fairness Social responsibility Honesty Intellectual strengths Creativity Love of learning Love of appreciation Curiosity Wisdom Courage Theological strengths Spirituality Gratitude Forgiveness a Bold
.97 .85 .83 .80 .64 .53 .40
−.09 .05 −.15 −.04 .08 .04 .07
.02 −.17 .08 −.02 .17 .37 .35
−.21 .13 −.07 .14 −.15 −.01 .16
−.15 −.16 .01 .02 .04 .06 .44 .25
.92 .89 .65 .65 .63 .60 .57 .33
.02 .02 .33 −.23 .25 .02 −.26 .10
−.01 −.00 −.20 .28 −.11 .18 .10 .03
.15 −.35 −.02 .28 .08 .30
−.19 .19 −.14 −.16 .35 .23
.76 .75 .73 .72 .57 .44
.07 .23 .37 .11 −.06 −.10
−.16 .33 .15
−.02 .01 .31
.29 .20 .02
.51 .46 .44
numbers denote salient loadings (≥.33).
of .33 or higher were retained to generate virtues. As shown in Table 1, all 24 CSs had primary factor loadings above .33. An examination of the simple structure of CSs revealed there were six CSs (vitality, optimism, social responsibility, love of learning, love of appreciation and wisdom) with equivalent cross-loadings on several factors. One CS had loadings within .10 of each other on two different factors. It was decided to exclude the CS (optimism) from further analyses. Factor I pertains to interpersonal CS, factor II pertains to restraint CS, factor III pertains to intellectual CS and factor IV pertains to theological CS. The unique contributions made by each virtue to positive mental health1 Figure 1 shows a three-factor MIMIC model constructed during this study. The right side of the model shows the
1 The nominal regression analysis was conducted in order to reconfirm the results of the MIMIC model analysis. Based on Keyes’ methods 2005, subjects were classified into three dimensions of mental health according to MHC-SF scores (flourishing, moderately mentally healthy and languishing). According to the Wald criterion, intellectual CS (Wald = 11.02) and restraint CS (Wald = 5.65) were predictive of flourishing status and intellectual CS (Wald = 11.52) was predictive of languishing status (reference category: moderately mentally healthy). Thus, intellectual CS was found to be a significant predictor of positive mental health in both analyses.
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Positive Mental Health
CS Intellectual CS
Theological CS Note. CS = Character Strengths All numbers are standardized loadings/coefficients. * p < .001
Figure 1. Relationship between virtues and positive mental health: Multiple Indicators Multiple Causes (MIMIC) model. Note: CS = character strengths. All numbers are standardised loadings/coefficients. *p < .001.
relationship between the latent variable (positive mental health) and individual component indicators of the latent variable. On the left side, the model was complemented with a structural component by including four virtues to examine the effects of these variables on latent constructs. The latent variable R2 was .49. Intellectual and interpersonal CS were found to be significant predictors of positive mental health scores after accounting for age and gender (β = .41, p < .001; β = .25, p < .001). The model indicated an adequate fit with the data (CFI = .97; TLI = .95; RMSEA = .08). Unique contributions of each virtue to the three dimensions of well-being The MIMIC model was applied in order to examine whether virtues predicted the three dimensions of well-being after controlling for gender and age. The tested model showed adequate fit with the data (CFI = .96; TLI = .94; RMSEA = .07). Results indicated a specific relationship between virtues and the three dimensions of subjective well-being (Table 2). The analysis showed interpersonal, intellectual and theological CSs to be significant predictors of emotional well-being scores after controlling for age and gender (β = .16, p < .05; β = .34, p < .001; β = .20, p < .001); interpersonal, restraint, intellectual and theological CSs significantly predicted social well-being © 2014 International Union of Psychological Science
TABLE 2 Multiple Indicators Multiple Causes (MIMIC) model examining the impact of virtues on the three well-beings Emotional well-being Gender Age Interpersonal strengths Restraint strengths Intellectual strengths Theological strengths
−.04 −.00 .16* .04 .34*** .20***
.02 .07 .26*** .12* .21*** .11*
−.04 −.01 .27*** .04 .45*** .03
Note: Cell numbers are standardised regression coefficients. ***p < .001. **p < .01. *p < .05.
scores after accounting for age and gender (β = .26, p < .001; β = .12, p < .05; β = .21, p < .001; β = .11, p < .05) and interpersonal and intellectual CSs proved to be significant predictors of psychological well-being scores after controlling for age and gender (β = .27, p < .001; β = .45, p < .001). Unique contributions of each CS to the positive mental health The MIMIC model was used to test whether CSs predicted positive mental health after controlling for gender and age. Curiosity, wisdom, vitality, gratitude and optimism significantly predicted positive mental health scores
after accounting for age and gender (β = .22, p < .001; β = .16, p < .01; β = .15, p < .05; β = .19, p < .001; β = .22, p < .001). The model showed reasonable fit with the data collected (CFI = .95; TLI = .91; RMSEA = .08). Unique contributions of each CS to the three dimensions of well-being MIMIC modelling was carried out to determine whether CSs predicted the three dimensions of well-being after controlling for gender and age. Findings showed a specific relationship between CSs and three dimensions of subjective well-being. Curiosity, vitality and gratitude turned out to be significant predictors of emotional well-being scores after accounting for age and gender (β = .32, p < .001; β = .15, p < .05; β = .24, p < .001); optimism and social responsibility were shown to predict social well-being scores after accounting for age and gender (β = .22, p < .01; β = .28, p < .001) and curiosity, wisdom, vitality, gratitude and optimism significantly predicted psychological well-being scores after accounting for age and gender (β = .19, p < .01; β = .20, p < .01; β = .17, p < .01; β = .15, p < .05; β = .20, p < .01). The fit indices of this model showed good fit with the data (CFI = .94, TLI = .91, RMSEA = .05). DISCUSSION This study represents an evaluation of the latent structure of the Values in Action classification of CSs and the relation between virtue structure and mental health in a Korean population. EFA results indicated that a four-factor solution provided a suitable fit with collected data. Furthermore, it was found that intellectual and interpersonal CSs predicted subjective well-being according to all measures of emotional, social and psychological aspects. Previous studies focused on relations between virtues and the emotional dimension of subjective well-being, and did not examine the relation between virtues and a comprehensive model of subjective well-being. This study extends previous findings by investigating the association between virtues and all three dimensions of subjective well-being, and suggests that particular virtues could make a salient contribution to levels of positive mental health. The factor structure observed in this study was inconsistent with that predicted by the Peterson and Seligman (2004) theory. There could be several explanations for this discrepancy. First, the instrument used to measure CSs probably does not represent Korean culture nor can it represent two countries equally. Second, homogeneity of the sample included in this study might have affected results, as prior studies have shown that virtue structures are dependent on sample diversity (Hool, 2011). Third,
Koreans may have a CS co-occurrence pattern that differs from those of people in other countries. The present data show that if Koreans are fair (a justice-CS), they are also modest and prudent (temperance-CS), and if they are open-minded (a wisdom-CS), they will also be perseverant (a courage-CS). These co-occurrence patterns of Koreans might be influenced by the presence of the traditional virtue of righteousness, which consists of diverse CSs, such as, justice, a sense of duty and self-control. In this study, both intellectual and interpersonal CSs were predictive of the levels of all three domains of subjective well-being. Interestingly, theological CS was not predictive of psychological well-being but of emotional well-being and social well-being and restraint CS was not predictive of emotional well-being or psychological well-being but of social well-being. These findings suggest that associations between virtues and positive mental health may differ according to the domains of subjective well-being. The specific association between social well-being and restraint CS could be explained in two ways. First, according to previous studies, a person with restraint CS is cooperative and less likely to be competitive (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Furthermore, more cooperative and less competitive people tend to achieve optimal social functioning (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Second, a person with a high level of restraint CS might be less likely to cause interpersonal conflict by cheating on others and taking credit from others in their social lives (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Given a lack of empirical evidence, future studies are required to explore factors and the mechanism that underlies these relations. This study shows a significant association between interpersonal CS and subjective well-being, which is consistent with prior observations of a strong relationship between interpersonal CS and subjective well-being (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010). This study also shows a positive relation between intellectual CS and positive mental health. This unpredicted finding probably originates from the nature of the participants in this study, who were drawn from a highly educated student population with elevated intellectual motives. Alternatively, this finding may reflect Korean culture that regards education as a means of acquiring high socioeconomic status. In MIMIC model, the loadings between positive mental health and psychological well-being were higher than those between positive mental health and emotional/social well-being. The meaning of this finding could be explained in two ways. First, psychological well-being is more important than the other two well-being indices when assessing positive mental health. This implies that the value of optimal functioning in private life is higher than that of optimal emotional state or optimal functioning in social life. Second, psychological well-being is more essential than the other two well-being indices for college students. This suggests that © 2014 International Union of Psychological Science
college students who place emphasis on the development of personal qualities value optimal functioning in private life more highly than optimal functioning in social life or an optimal emotional state. The findings of this study bear indirectly on how Korean college students with low levels of subjective well-being could be encouraged to lead a flourishing life. It has been shown virtue-based interventions that target the identification of virtues and encourage their use help students deal with stress at college (Chan, 2009). For students with low subjective well-being, intellectual and interpersonal CSs that show the predictive power of subjective well-being might be interventional targets. For students with low social well-being, in addition to intellectual and interpersonal CSs, restraint CS that predict social well-being could be interventional targets and for those with low emotional well-being, in addition to intellectual and interpersonal CSs, theological CS, which display an association with emotional well-being, could be the objects of intervention. Some limitations of this study warrant consideration. First, the study was based on a cross-sectional design, which imposes restrictions because this type of design does not provide clear explanations of causal relationships among variables. According to Aristotle, being a good person results in having a high level of subjective well-being. However, it has also been suggested that a high level of subjective well-being provides the basis for striving to be a person with high levels of virtues, for example, Dyrbye et al. (2012) found that medical students that were flourishing were less likely to engage in unethical behaviours than students not flourishing. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the possession of good mental health causes one to be more ethical or whether being more ethical improves mental health. Likewise, in this study, it is unclear whether being more morally good promotes positive mental health or whether better mental health causes one to have more positive qualities. Although this study was designed based on prior observations, which suggested that virtues predict positive mental health (Gillham et al., 2011), further empirical studies based on longitudinal or experimental designs are required to determine the dominant direction of influence. The second limitation is that the age range of the study participants was narrow, and thus, caution should be exercised when applying these results to other populations. The third limitation is that no information on socioeconomic status was collected, and findings of a relation between family income and subjective well-being have been consistently reported (Cummins, 2000). Finally, this study did not assess the third variables that could have affected associations between virtues and mental health, for example, it is possible that factors, such as, mental illness (i.e. depression) could diminish positive mental health and hinder virtues (Hammen, 1991). © 2014 International Union of Psychological Science
In conclusion, the virtues, particularly intellectual and interpersonal CSs, appear to have the power to predict positive mental health in Korean university students. Furthermore, each domain of subjective well-being appears to be linked with specific virtues. The findings of this study suggest that virtues showing most robust associations with subjective well-being need to be considered prime interventional targets. It has been previously proposed that virtues promote positive mental health via the broaden-and-build process (Keyes, Fredrickson, & Park, 2012). Future studies are evidently required to examine the mechanism underlying the relationship between virtues and positive mental health. Manuscript received December 2013 Revised manuscript accepted July 2014 First published online August 2014
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