Empowering People through Behavioral Science

RESEARCH AGENDAS

The NPP Project aims to engage an ever-expanding community of scientific minds in invigorating programs of research that address our central question: How might individuals actively shape—rather than merely inhabit—their environments, and thus become more purposeful, powerful creators of their destiny? Below is a brief description of the research agendas now underway.

 

Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose Across the Lifespan
BRINGING PURPOSE TO HEALTHY EATING FOR ADOLESCENTS: A CLASSROOM-BASED INTERVENTION EXPERIMENT

Principal Investigator: Christopher Bryan, Assistant Professor, University of California at San Diego

In the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic, interventions to promote healthy eating habits through health-based appeals have not worked.  The interventions that have had success are the ones that seem to bypass conscious or intentional processes and instead use environmental cues to shape behavior without people’s awareness.  However, it is not possible to shape all the environments that children find themselves in. So if children could be taught to purposefully shape their own environments to promote healthy eating, more significant and lasting improvements in health could be achieved. The authors propose an intervention that aligns healthy eating with developmentally heightened adolescent drives to assert their autonomy, combat injustice, and define a positive identity.  That is, it seeks to give healthy eating a purpose. 

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Wealth
THE PURPOSE OF WEALTH: HELPING MONEY GO TO OUR HEARTS, NOT TO OUR HEADS

Principal Investigator: Eugene M. Caruso, Project Co-Leader and Associate Professor of Behavioral Science

As proverbial wisdom warns, many people fail to anticipate the ways in which money may influence or change them, and thus in the pursuit of wealth they stumble into small-minded and petty patterns of behavior. Nevertheless, remarkable acts of altruism and benevolence among the wealthy have been recorded as long as human history itself, suggesting that there are ways in which people can manage the pursuit and possession of wealth to preserve, and perhaps actually accentuate some of our most charitable instincts. This research therefore aims to understand how, and under what conditions, exposure to money, wealth, and related resources can inspire individuals to embrace actions that transcend self-interest to reflect noble, compassionate, and benevolent purpose.

This project is a foundational agenda for the New Paths to Purpose Project

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
RESOLVING THE “URGENT-IMPORTANT” CONFLICT TO PROMOTE PURPOSEFUL GOAL PURSUIT

Principal Investigator: Benjamin A. ConverseAssistant Professor of Public Policy and Psychology, University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Too many people are familiar with the routine of deferring their most cherished, important goals to confront the daily barrage of urgent demands. Why do so many otherwise accomplished people fail to pursue what is most important to them, and what can they do to change this? A team of researchers with connections to psychology, public policy, public health, and medicine will investigate this conflict between urgent and important goals. Their aims are to conceptualize and document the conflict; to understand the social and self-regulatory mechanisms that determine its resolution; and to identify simple changes people can make to help them achieve their preferred balance of important, purposeful goal pursuit. They will pursue these aims by conducting survey research; by documenting the experience of Cancer survivors, who often report a changed perspective that helps them deal with these conflicts in daily life; and by conducting behavioral experiments in the lab and field to determine conditions that promote the pursuit of important goals.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose & Wealth
Purpose & Well-Being
FLIPPING THE PHILANTHROPY SWITCH: HARNESSING SITUATIONAL ATTRIBUTIONS TO INCREASE CHARITABLE GIVING

Principal Investigator: Elizabeth W. Dunn, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia

Under what conditions are wealthy individuals inspired to give? The objective of the proposed research is to understand the psychological factors that ‘flip the philanthropy switch,’ thereby transforming the financially successful entrepreneurs of today into the Warren Buffetts of tomorrow. Building on past research, we hypothesize that individuals will be more inclined to use their financial resources to benefit others if they view their own financial success as stemming from situational factors, such as being in the right place at the right time or receiving help from others. In addition, we expect that people who use their wealth to benefit others will experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Thus, the proposed research is poised to illuminate how subtle psychological factors can influence individuals’ decisions about whether to use their resources to help others, while tracking how these decisions shape individuals’ own pathways to purpose.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
OPTIMAL MOTIVATION

Principal Investigator: Ayelet Fishbach, Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing

Motivation is needed not only to begin, but also to progress toward and ultimately achieve the vast majority of desirable life outcomes. Too often, however, we tend to view such motivation as a mysterious, unpredictable force that acts upon us, rather than as a manageable power we can align with our will. This research therefore aims to explore four domains in which individuals can potentially control situational factors to more reliably evoke their motivation to fulfill their chosen purposes: progress feedback; regulation of attention to the experiential vs. instrumental value of intermediate goals; management of the logistical (e.g., coordination) and relationship (e.g., gratitude) demands involved in joint efforts; and avoidance of tempting distractions through the exercise of self-control.

This project is a foundational agenda for the New Paths to Purpose Project

 
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