Empowering People through Behavioral Science

Practical Tools for Purpose

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: Practical Tools for Purpose.

With work on Practical Tools for Purpose, we acknowledge that although people routinely strive to achieve their intended goals and aspirations, they are not always as successful as they would like to be, and successful individual strategies for achieving intended goals are not readily translated to broader audiences. Accordingly, we ask: What tools would allow the benefits of purpose to be realized in policy, educational, medical, and organizational settings? What interventions—at the individual level, the group level, or the societal level—can best promote the adoption, pursuit, and achievement of purpose in human life? How can the impact of such interventions be quantified and sustained across time? See below for content related to our emerging insights.

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Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
IT’S TEDIOUS BUT IT MATTERS: CAN PURPOSE PROMOTE THE GRIT REQUIRED TO BUILD MATH AND SCIENCE SKILLS?

Principal Investigator: David S. Yeager, Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

One roadblock to math and science achievement is the tedium of mastering foundational skills.  A common approach to removing this barrier is to change the educational environment so that it makes connections to intrinsic interests (e.g., “you can use Algebra to understand baseball statistics”).  Yet such approaches are limited because foundational schoolwork is often unavoidably tedious and uninteresting. The present research proposes that a purpose—a self-relevant goal that is seen as having positive consequences beyond the self—can create in learners a mindset in which tedious skill-building tasks are re-construed as relevant for accomplishing higher-order goals.  When viewing such tasks through the lens of a prosocial purpose, learners may exhibit greater grit—or persistence on these tasks even in the face of appealing alternatives—and may ultimately acquire more skills and perform at higher levels over time.

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

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

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

Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
VOLUNTEERISM: HOW INDIVIDUAL INTENTIONS CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY ENGAGED BY SOCIAL PURPOSE

Principal Investigators:

  • George Wu, Professor of Behavioral Science
  • Ayelet Fishbach, Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing

Individuals derive some of their greatest fulfillment from pursuing experiences with a shared social purpose, and unsurprisingly, many exhibit no end of good intentions to volunteer for such efforts. Too few, however, of these generous impulses produce actual volunteer activity. Instead, subtle and unanticipated situational factors often interfere to derail and diminish even the best of intentions, such that people not only fail to act, but also remain ignorant of just how they went astray. This research aims to address this problem by exploring the following fundamental research question: How, and with what features and forces of context can individuals better evoke, support, and strengthen their own and others’ contributions (of time, money, effort, etc.) to social purpose?

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

 
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