Empowering People through Behavioral Science

Purpose Across the Lifespan

In exploring the human experience of purpose, the NPP project has identified several core themes that are particularly significant, and which provide a useful framework for organizing our activities.  This page displays the content from this website tagged for one of those themes: Purpose Across the Lifespan.

Sometimes people have the same goals and purposes for most of their life, yet other times they abandon some goals or adopt new ones. Work on Purpose Across the Lifespan considers the many implications of this fact, asking questions like: How do specific goals develop in children? What are the factors that determine whether and for how long these early goals will be pursued? What prompts people to abandon existing goals or adopt new ones? In what ways do goals change with various milestones throughout life (e.g., the birth of children, retirement)? See below for content related to our emerging insights.

Research Agendas See All Types »

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Principal Investigator: Jenessa Shapiro,  Associate Professor of Psychology and Management, University of California at Los Angeles

Adjustment to college is difficult. As a result, many interventions, including student orientation efforts, aim to make this transition smoother to protect students’ grades, satisfaction with college, and retention. This is particularly important for under-represented racial/ethnic minority students. Under-representation leads students to worry about being seen through the lens of negative stereotypes about their group and to question their sense of fit and belonging in academic settings, which in turn undermines academic interest and performance, a phenomenon called stereotype threat. We propose that stereotype threat will also lead to a reduced sense of purpose: If you feel as though you do not belong in a particular context, it is difficult to derive a sense of purpose or meaningfulness from this context. We further propose that an authenticity intervention—an intervention that individuates students and celebrates their unique cultural backgrounds—will undermine multiple forms of stereotype threats, increase students’ feelings of purpose, and in turn increase well-being, satisfaction with the university, grades, and feelings of academic fit/belonging.

Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose Across the Lifespan

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

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