Measuring Personal Growth Attributed to a Semester of College Life Using the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory

Article excerpt

In this descriptive exploratory study, the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996) was used to measure levels of personal growth attributed by college students (N = 117) to a semester of university life in retrospective self-reports. Results reflect attributions of substantial total growth in the range reported in the posttraumatic studies and attributions of substantial growth to a variety of specific experiences. The results suggest that personal growth as defined by the PTGI is not necessarily adversarial and that personal growth can be intentionally facilitated by educational activities.

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Previous empirical studies (e.g., 39 in review of Linley & Joseph, 2004) of retrospective self-reports of personal growth (selected positive psychological changes enumerated by instrument items) have focused exclusively on adversarial growth (growth attributed to adverse life circumstances as defined by Linley & Joseph, 2004). Researchers have used five different instruments based on similar definitions of personal growth (Joseph, Linley, & Harris, 2005). Results document attributions of substantial levels of adversarial growth to a variety of adverse experiences. The most widely used instrument in adversarial studies has been Tedeschi and Calhoun's (1996) Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI).

Although most existing studies of personal growth as defined by the PTGI have focused exclusively on measuring levels of adversarial growth, there is little reason to assume that all personal growth is adversarial. For example, developmental theorists have described positive changes such as those embodied in the PTGI as outcomes of developmental processes involving complex combinations of life experiences (e.g., Erikson, 1968; Fowler, 1981; Levinson, 1978; Loevinger, 1976; Rogers, 1961) and developed theory-based measures of corresponding constructs and variables. In particular, Chickering (1969) described a theory of student identity development with tasks reminiscent of the PTGI items. Chickering (1969), Perry (1970), and Chickering and Reisser (1993) identified the college undergraduate period as a time of substantial personal growth in response to a wide variety of extracurricular, environmental, and academic experiences. Thus, the idea that personal growth as defined by the PTGI takes place during normal development is intuitively appealing. However, there is little empirical evidence to support the idea because few researchers have used instruments such as the PTGI to measure personal growth that is not strictly adversarial in origin.

Anderson and Lopez-Baez (2008) described one of the few such studies to date. They used the PTGI to measure college students' attributions of levels of total personal growth, whether adversarial or otherwise, to a single semester of college life in retrospective self-reports. The current article documents a descriptive follow-up study of a similar sample with the goal of exploring student attributions of personal growth in more detail. The design of the current study required measuring attributions of total growth using the method described in Anderson and Lopez-Baez's study and also measuring attributions of the relative contributions to total growth (i.e., percentage contributions) of specific experiences of interest, including an academic course designed to facilitate growth. It is hoped that the results will contribute to a better understanding of personal growth in general and provide support for using the PTGI in related future studies.

Measuring Total Personal Growth

We selected the PTGI as our measure of total personal growth because the instrument has acceptable psychometric properties (Joseph et al., 2005); produces results that can be compared with those of a large body of published posttraumatic studies; and is a general outcome measure of personal growth, whether adversarial or otherwise. …