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.

 

2012 RFP Winners

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 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

Practical Tools for Purpose
NUDGING HEALTH: USING REALISTIC SIMULATIONS OF THE FUTURE TO MODIFY BEHAVIOR

Principal Investigator: Hal E. HershfieldAssistant Professor of Marketing, NYU Stern School of Business

In order to help people achieve healthier lives, previous work has explored pre-commitment devices (i.e., enacting future constraints on behavior), and also tried to change the ways that individuals think about future rewards. We take a different tack, one that deals not with present and future rewards, but with the connection between present and future selves. In line with thinkers who have suggested that people may fail to identify with their future selves through a lack of belief or imagination, we propose that enabling people to interact with realistic future simulations of themselves will cause them to more successfully pursue health as an important purpose of everyday life.

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
Practical Tools for Purpose
KEEPING PEOPLE MOTIVATED: USING TECHNOLOGY TO ENGAGE AND MOTIVATE

Principal Investigator: Dilip SomanCorus Chair in Communication Strategy and Professor of Marketing, University of Toronto Rotman School of Management

One manifestation of the concept of purpose is the motivation that individuals need to accomplish goals in their lives. In many undertakings, motivation is typically high at the beginning of the process (the “start-up enthusiasm”) and at the end (the “light at the end of the tunnel” effects) but there is a long and seemingly arduous middle phase that people don't navigate very well. The “middle slump” happens because of the perception of lack of progress, and a focus on the concrete details that need to be done rather than the abstract desirable outcome. We aim to develop and test a theoretically-informed framework to better understand the “middle slump” phenomena, and to develop a catalogue of interventions to help users navigate the middle slump. We further plan to create and test several smartphone apps that help people stay motivated.

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

 
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