Baylor Researchers Launch Scientific Study of Prosocial Benefits of Scouting

Dec. 14, 2009

Two-Year Grant Will Fund Examination Into Value of Scouting Experience

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According to the Scout Law, a Boy Scout is "Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent."

But does he stay that way as he grows up?

That's a question never scientifically studied -- until now. Researchers with Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion have received a two-year, $992,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation for a series of studies examining the impact of Scouting in fostering positive youth development and healthy, virtuous behaviors -- termed "prosocial behavior."

The grant was awarded to the institute's co-directors, Dr. Byron Johnson and Dr. Rodney Stark.

The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation's largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations. Founded in 1910, the BSA provides programs for young men and women designed to build character, give training in the responsibilities of participatory citizenship, and develop personal fitness. The purpose of Scouting is to help youth develop academic skills, self-confidence, ethical decision-making skills, leadership skills, and citizenship skills that carry over into adulthood.

Throughout the Boy Scouting program, Scouts are encouraged to advance in rank over time culminating in the rank of Eagle Scout. In addition to having achieved all the lower ranks, to become an Eagle Scout, a boy must earn 21 merit badges and design and complete a leadership service project. In 2008, around 5 percent of all Boy Scouts earned the Eagle Scout rank.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that large numbers of adolescents involved with Boy Scouts, especially those achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, see dramatic changes in their lives. These changes include the development of character virtues such as patience, kindness, humility, service, purpose, honesty, duty, tenacity, and commitment--all prosocial behaviors.

Johnson, the project's principal investigator, cites the lack of existing studies that definitively show the prosocial benefits of Scouting.

"Unfortunately, there has been very little research on Boy Scouts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals are essentially nonexistent," Johnson said. "We need empirical answers to a number of important questions: Does Scouting matter? Is Scouting associated with beneficial results over time? Do Eagle Scouts value their Scouting experiences more than other Scouts? Does this vary for different eras? In other words, do Eagle Scouts from the 1950s differ from those of the 1980s?"

Stark, co-principal investigator, describes the study's methodology. "Answering these questions requires large nationally representative samples of men who have taken part in Scouting and of men who did not. Consequently, we will work with the Gallup Organization to identify a nationally representative sample of men who were and were not Scouts."

The comparisons between non-Scouts and former Scouts, especially Eagle Scouts, will be used to gauge popular assumptions about the effects of Scouting, such as:

• Former Scouts have a better-quality family life.
• Former Scouts are more religious.
• Former Scouts are better citizens.
• Former Scouts are more generous contributors to charity.
• Former Scouts are less likely to drink or use drugs.
• Former Scouts are healthier and more apt to participate in fitness activities.
• Former Scouts are better educated and have higher occupational status.
• Former Scouts are more patriotic.
• Former Scouts are more likely to report that they are "very happy."

Dr. Kent Hill, vice president for character development at the John Templeton Foundation, points to this important gap in knowledge that the study will begin to help fill.

"Studies produced over the next several years from Baylor will help to identify the factors, if any, that contribute to these young people in developing and sustaining prosocial behavior," Hill said. "Further, this research will enhance our understanding of what differentiates those adolescents who experience growth from those who do not, and will begin to tell us how Scouting results in benefits later in life."

The BSA will celebrate its centennial in 2010, and the head of the organization, Chief Scout Executive Robert Mazzuca, says he looks forward to seeing results of the research. "For decades, the Boy Scouts of America has used outcomes research to strengthen our programs and curriculum. The research produced by Baylor University is very important and at this crucial time--we expect to learn a great deal from the research as we embark on our next 100 years," Mazzuca said.

About the Boy Scouts of America

Serving nearly 2.8 million young people between the ages of 7 and 20 with more than 290 local councils throughout the United States and its territories, the Boy Scouts of America is the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. For more information on the Boy Scouts of America, please visit www.scouting.org.

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

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