Expanding Our Understanding Of Purpose In Life: Contexts And Characteristics That Affect Purpose Exploration And Content
There is an abundance of research on purpose in life, much of which focuses on one's overall level of or commitment to a purpose. In the three studies presented here, I focus on two facets of purpose that are less well-understood: exploration and content. Previous research on identity has linked ongoing exploration to adaptive functioning and internalizing symptoms, so in the first study, structural equation modeling was used to investigate the relationships between both ongoing and past exploration in the domain of purpose with these outcomes. Results indicated that ongoing purpose exploration was negatively related to adaptive functioning and positively related to internalizing symptoms, but past purpose exploration was not significantly related to either outcome. In an effort to extend existing work on purpose, much of which utilized college student samples, the second study compared adults who graduated from college to adults with no or some college experience on a number of dimensions related to purpose development, including the strategies of exploration, overall level of purpose, and the content of one's purpose. The relationship between purpose and psychological assets such as agency and subjective wellbeing was also compared across groups. Results demonstrated that there were no differences by education level with regard to overall level of purpose or one's purpose exploration, but education interacted with purpose to shape purpose content and purpose's relationships with agency and negative affect. Another individual characteristic, gender, was investigated in the third study, which examined perceived and actual gender differences in purpose content. In Study 3.1, participants exhibited gendered perceptions of purpose content, believing that women were more likely to pursue prosocial and creative purposes while men were more likely to pursue financial and personal recognition purposes. These perceptions were partially reflected by gender differences in self-reported purpose content. In Study 3.2, the relationship between purpose content and the degree to which participants had explored and committed to a purpose was different for males and females. Overall, findings indicated that purpose exploration and content can be influenced by timing, education, and gender. The discussion focuses on implications for the study of purpose development.
purpose in life; subjective well-being; gender
Ceci,Stephen John; Williams,Wendy M
Ph. D., Developmental Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis