Thanda Study

In the Thanda Study of Character and Health, or, Promoting Healthy Development in South African Youth through Thanda’s Character Virtues, IARYD is partnered with Thanda (, a child- and youth-development organization working in the Umzumbe Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Due to poverty and negative parenting practices, children and youth in Thanda’s programs suffer from multiple health challenges, including chronic stress and “failure to thrive” both physically and emotionally.

We are conducting a three-year longitudinal study of the impact of Thanda’s After-School (AS) programs on the character virtue development (CVD) and health of the children and youth it serves.

In order to identify what are likely to be nuanced relations between CVD program participation, changes in stress, and indicators of health, IARYD is building from our prior measure-development work (e.g., Yu et al., 2020, 2021) and use person-specific (idiographic) methods by assessing a randomly selected subsample of Thanda children and youth and a matched sample of non-Thanda youth, once a week for 15 consecutive weeks. Saliva samples will also be used to index cortisol stress-hormone levels, which will measure biological concomitants of psychological stress levels (which will also be assessed by survey measures) over the course of the intervention.

IARYD will administer traditional (variable-centered) surveys of CVD to all youth in Thanda’s AS programs at three times of testing to provide information about the comparative usefulness of traditional data analytic approaches versus person-specific approaches to data analysis in helping practitioners understand how CVD may change the course of health outcomes among youth experiencing the stressors of poverty. Originally the variable-centered part of the study was intended to include a matched counterfactual group of children and youth not enrolled in Thanda programming but due to the challenges of COVID-19, it was not possible to collect variable-centered data from a counterfactual group. Wave 1 of variable-centered data has been collected as has the person-specific data. Wave 2 of variable-centered data will be collected in March 2023.

The results will inform program design and implementation regarding the ways in which CVD may lessen stress and its deleterious impacts on health and overall thriving. 

Project Updates

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