A study to examine whether and how Boy Scout programs affect the character, health and academic achievement of youths -- as well as their contribution to community and democracy -- will be launched in September by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and Tufts University's Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development.
The three-year study, armed with major funding from the John Templeton Foundation and headed by Tufts, will evaluate an innovative Boy Scouts of America program that incorporates full-time executives to assist Scout troops by training the leaders, recruiting and retaining youths, and fund raising. Typically, local troops are staffed by volunteers.
Researchers will be Byron Johnson, Ph.D., director of the ISR and also of Baylor's Program on Prosocial Behavior, and Richard Lerner, Ph.D., Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science and director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts.
The study will be done in four waves in a geographic area in Philadelphia, Penn., that is served by the Cradle of Liberty Council Boy Scouts of America.
"It was necessary to select a jurisdiction that would generate a large and diverse number of study participants from rural as well as urban communities," said Thomas Harrington, the CEO of the Cradle of Liberty Council.
Noted Johnson: "The program could become a model for recruitment and retention of diverse youth -- especially boys from inner cities -- in Boy Scouts, especially if the study shows that involvement in the Scouts enhances the youths' character."
The study will compare all boys ages 7, 8, 9 and 10 from three groups in the selected geographic area:
- 36 randomly selected Cub Scout packs with full-time executives
- 36 randomly selected Cub Scout packs without full-time executives
- Comparable samples of boys who are not in Cub Scouts
All youths surveyed (approximately 3, 880) will be from the same schools or religious organizations and will be matched on demographic characteristics - other than age - that are related to the likelihood of being in Cub Scouts, Johnson said.
The youths will be re-tested in May 2014, September 2014 and May 2015, and any new youth entering the sample packs will be tested as well, he said.
In addition to directing ISR and leads Baylor's Program on Prosocial Behavior, Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor. He was the principal investigator in a nationwide scientific survey of the impact of Eagle Scouts on society. In that study, released in spring of 2012 and funded by a two-year research grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Baylor researchers partnered with the Gallup Organization to survey 2,512 adult males.
Findings demonstrated that Eagle Scouts went on to contribute significantly, from holding leadership positions in their workplaces and neighborhoods to voting, volunteering, protecting the environment and preparing for emergencies.
Johnson also completed a series of studies for the Department of Justice on religion's role in prosocial youth behavior. He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, domestic violence and criminal justice. His research also has been used in consultation with the Department of Defense, Department of Labor and the National Institutes of Health.
Co-researcher Lerner has more than 500 scholarly publications, including 70 authored or edited books, among them The Good Teen. In that book, he supports a new conception of adolescence based on strengths rather than weaknesses, presenting five personality characteristics -- competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring -- that lead to long-term contributions to society.
He and colleagues at Tufts have published more 100 studies on the impact of the 4-H program on youths. He was the founding editor of the Journal of Research on Adolescence and of Applied Developmental Science and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, and the Association for Psychological Science.