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Procedures to examine the causes and consequences of meaning

Author: Dr Simon Moss


When people experience a sense of purpose and meaning, they are willing to sacrifice their immediate needs to pursue future goals. Consequently, they are not as impulsive (see psychological connectedness), diminishing many social problems, such as substance abuse and aggression. Furthermore, they embrace the uncertainty and complexity that development entails, fostering resilience (cf socioemotional selectivity theory). Finally, because they tolerate unpleasant states, they are not as susceptible to biased thoughts, judgments, and decisions (see the meaning maintenance model).

Future research, therefore, needs to assess the government policies and workplace practices that foster this sense of purpose and, ultimately, solve an array of societal problems. This article describes a theory, called the Model of Sustained Strivings, that is intended to facilitate this pursuit. This theory comprises three key propositions.

Proposition 1: The benefits of purpose and meaning

According to the model of sustained strivings, whenever people experience a sense of purpose and meaning--that is, whenever they feel committed to some enduring and significant aspiration--many if not most problems in society dissipate. Five mechanisms seem to underpin the benefits of purpose and meaning.

First, when individuals strive to pursue some enduring and significant aspiration, they recognize how their activities now may align to this future goal. If assigned a tedious job, for example, they realize this role may generate the income or networks that are needed to pursue a lifelong dream. In contrast, as purpose and meaning dissipate, people cannot appreciate the association between their behaviors now and their aspirations of the future. Instead, from the perspective of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), they ascribe their behaviors to other sources, such as the demands of managers or the desires of parents, manifesting as extrinsic motivation rather than intrinsic motivation. As this intrinsic motivation subsides, persistence diminishes (Pelletier, Fortier, Vallerand, & Briere, 2001). Instead, tasks that are usually invigorating seem tedious and demand effort, increasing the likelihood of burnout and exhaustion.

Second, because of this persistent and enduring pursuit of a future aspiration, individuals who experience a sense of purpose and meaning assume their values and interests now will overlap with their values and interests in the future. That is, they perceive their motivations as stable across time. Consequently, as research indicates, these individuals are willing to sacrifice some of their immediate needs to facilitate these future goals (Bartels & Urminsky, 2011). Because of this willingness to sacrifice their immediate needs, they do not yield to temptations but behave responsibly instead of impulsively. Problems that are assumed to correlate with impulsivity, such as smoking, substance abuse, gambling, aggression, unhealthy eating, and lethargy, will tend to subside.

Third, because these individuals are motivated to facilitate their aspirations, they are especially motivated to accumulate resources, such as knowledge, skills, and networks, rather than merely enhance their emotions now (Pruzan & Isaacowitz, 2006). As their need to enhance their emotions dissipates, they become more resilient to the complexities and uncertainties that learning and development can entail (e.g., Brown, Asher, & Cialdini, 2005).

Fourth, because they are not motivated to enhance their emotions now, they embrace negative feelings and states. They accept rather than avoid unpleasant emotions, analogous to mindfulness. Indeed, they may associate some negative emotions, such as uncertainty, with an opportunity to develop. Consequently, they often experience a blend of positive and negative emotions, such as feelings of uncertainty and hope, and these ambivalent emotions have been shown to enhance creativity (e.g., Fong, 2006) as well as resilience (Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, & Cacioppo, 2003). Consistent with this possibility, primes that inhibit the salience of future aspirations, such as procedures that elicit stress or shift attention to immediate details, tend to evoke an aversion to ambivalent emotions (Hong & Lee, 2010).

Finally, because of this tolerance towards unpleasant emotions, these individuals are not as averse to unfavorable information about themselves. Consequently, they may not be as inclined to dismiss unpleasant information. Indeed, a variety of studies demonstrate that a sense of meaning diminishes a host of cognitive biases, such as the inclination of people to inflate their self-esteem (e.g., Randles, Proulx & Heine, 2010).

Proposition 2:The four determinants of purpose and meaning

Research implies that four conditions need to be fulfilled to foster this sense of meaning. In short, people need to feel their social environment is supportive, their duties are unambiguous, the values of society are consistent across time, and their capabilities are distinct. These conditions, therefore, should translate to all the benefits that are associated with a sense of purpose and meaning. The first column of the following table outlines these four conditions.

Model of sustainable strivings Baumeister model Meaning maintenance model Competing values framework
Cooperation: The social environment seems cooperative and moral A moral social environment A just world Collaborate, such as encourage participation
Control: The duties are unambiguous, fostering a sense of control A sense of control or efficacy A need for closure and certainty Control, such as clarify policies
Consistency: The values of society are consistent over time A clear sense of purpose Symbolic immortality and consistency of values Compete to increase stability, such as work hard
Capabilities: Distinct and proficient capabilities Self-esteem Inflated self-esteem Create, such as initiate significant change

The rationale that underpins these four conditions originates from studies on the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Specifically, as many researchers have underscored, people cannot shift their attention to enduring and significant pursuits--and therefore cannot experience a sense of purpose or meaning--until they feel their relationships or associations with other individuals are secure.

To illustrate, according to the model of belonging regulation, when relationships are threatened, people are especially motivated to restore these bonds rather than to pursue other aspirations (Knowles, Lucas, Molden, Gardner, & Dean, 2010). Similarly, if individuals feel they may be rejected by a key figure in their lives, they orient their attention to this person (Mikulincer, Shaver, & Pereg, 2003), inhibiting the inclination to explore other opportunities (e.g., Mikulincer, Shaver, & Rom, 2011). Likewise, whenever people feel they have not satisfied their social duties, their motivation to fulfill their aspirations subsides (Schmidt & DeShon, 2007).

The concept of internal working models (e.g., Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991) and relational schemas (Baldwin, 1995) imply that two main characteristics of people and their environment determine whether this need to belong is fulfilled (see also Keefer, Landau, Rothschild, & Sullivan, 2012). First, people assess the extent to which other individuals, animals, or even objects are likely to be cooperative and supportive, sometimes called the model of others (Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991). They learn that some cues tend to coincide with cooperation, such as a warm smile or a familiar community. Conversely, they learn that other cues tend to coincide with hostility, such as the emblems of rival gangs. Therefore, when people are exposed to cues that predict cooperation rather than hostility, they are more likely to feel accepted and supported, increasing their motivation to pursue other aspirations and instilling a sense of purpose and meaning.

Second, people ascertain the degree to which they are worthy of cooperation and support, sometimes called the model of the self (Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991). In particular, if people fulfill the norms and standards they are expected to uphold, often called their duties or obligations (Higgins, 1997), they feel they will be embraced by other individuals. In contrast, if individuals do not fulfill these duties and obligations, they anticipate the possibility they will be rejected or punished (Higgins, 1987).

Unfortunately, in some circumstances, people are not certain of their duties. They may, for example, receive conflicting instructions. They do not, therefore, feel they are granted the power to fulfill their responsibilities, diminishing their sense of control. They are concerned they may be rejected or excluded. Therefore, when people feel their duties are ambiguous, they become motivated only to establish or maintain relationships and not to pursue their future aspirations, diminishing their sense of purpose and meaning.

Nevertheless, even when the environment seems cooperative and duties seem unambiguous, people do not always feel committed to some enduring and significant aspiration of the future. Specifically, consistent with the tenets of expectancy theory, individuals will not commit to these aspirations unless two conditions are fulfilled.

First, they need to feel their aspirations or achievements will be valued in the future, analogous to the concept of instrumentality (Vroom, 1982). They need to feel the values of their society are consistent and predictable across time, sometimes called a coherent worldview (Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski, 1997)& otherwise, individuals cannot be certain these aspirations, if fulfilled, will be rewarded. Consequently, if people feel the values of society--that is, the achievements that are rewarded--are consistent over time, they are more likely to feel committed to their aspirations and to experience a sense of purpose and meaning.

Second, individuals need to feel they have developed the capabilities to achieve these aspirations, analogous to the concept of expectancy (Vroom, 1982). That is, they need to feel they can fulfill these societal values (Greenberg et al., 1997). When people feel they have acquired the capabilities that are needed to achieve their aspirations, they become more committed to these enduring and significant pursuits.

In short, to foster a sense of purpose and meaning, four conditions need to be fulfilled, as specified in the first column of the previous table. The first pair of conditions--a cooperative environment and unambiguous duties--confer a feeling of belonging, enabling individuals to shift their orientation to enduring pursuits. The second pair of conditions--consistent values over time and distinct capabilities--increase the commitment of individuals to these enduring pursuits.

These premises, referred to as the Model of Sustainable Strivings, are consistent with previous attempts to characterize the determinants of meaning. The second column of the previous table specifies the four determinants of meaning that were described by Baumeister (1991). The third column of this table stipulates the four biases that foster a sense of meaning, as delineated by the meaning maintenance model (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). The fourth column of this table specifies the four competing values that organizations need to fulfill, according to the competing values framework (Lawrence, Lenk, & Quinn, 2009;; Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1981). Arguably, these four columns describe overlapping needs or conditions.

Proposition 3: The six principles that assimilate these determinants of purpose and meaning

At first glance, the model of sustainable strivings implies that many intractable problems, from substance abuse to depression, can be dissolved. Practitioners merely need to foster a cooperative environment, characterized by unambiguous duties and stable values, in which capabilities can be readily developed. Regrettably, one insidious challenge first needs to be overcome. In particular, the initiatives or practices that foster one determinant of purpose and meaning will often impede other determinants of purpose and meaning. Consequently, many interventions will be futile.

To clarify the source of this complication, individuals are motivated to cultivate only one of these four determinants or conditions at a time. In particular, the context or setting determines which of these motivations are primed. For example, when people are exposed to cues that symbolize communities or families (Briley & Wyer, Jr., 2002), such as photographs of their parents or friends, they become especially primed to cultivate a cooperative environment (Hannover, Birkner, & Pohlmann, 2006). They value harmony and cohesion rather than supremacy or achievement. In contrast, when people are exposed to cues that symbolize independence, such as the word I or me (Stapel & Koomen, 2001), they become primed to cultivate distinct capabilities (Hannover et al., 2006). They value supremacy and achievements instead.

Therefore, in any context or setting, people will tend to endorse practices that fulfill this accessible motivation, often to the detriment of inaccessible motivations. To illustrate, if the motivation to cultivate a cooperative environment is primed, individuals may embrace interventions that foster trust and support. They may, for example, endorse initiatives that contain diversity. After all, as the diversity of teams dissipates, cooperation tends to increase, provided that all employees are assigned the same role (Jans, Postmes, & Van der Zee, 2012).

Yet later, if the motivation to cultivate distinct capabilities is primed, individuals will no longer embrace this intervention. They will not value uniformity over diversity. Instead, they want to acquire distinct capabilities and assume a unique profile of roles. Attempts to contain diversity, therefore, will not fulfill this desire, compromising their sense of purpose and meaning.

In short, attempts to foster one determinant of purpose and meaning will sometimes, and perhaps often, impede another determinant of purpose and meaning. Fortunately, six constellations of practices can overcome this limitation. The following table outlines six practices or tendencies that foster one determinant of meaning but impede another determinant of meaning. In addition, this table outlines a solution that resolves each conflict. Each row corresponds to one pair of conditions. The remainder of this section then justifies the contents of this table.

Pair of conditions Practice or inclination that fosters one determinant but impedes the other determinant Solution that resolves this conflict
Cooperation versus control More extensive social identities increase trust and cooperation but diminish uniformity of norms and duties Changes that instill trust towards different practices enable more confined social identities without provoking distrust
Cooperation versus consistency Priming the motivation to outperform rivals underscores a consistent value over time but incites competition instead of cooperation Participation in causes that everyone in the social environment approves offers an outlet for individuals to outperform rivals while still trusting people in their immediate surroundings
Cooperation versus capability Attempts to encourage uniformity in teams can foster trust and cooperation but impede the expression and development of distinct capabilities When individuals are leaders on some tasks but subordinates on other tasks, the equality of power can foster trust and cooperation, while enabling people to develop their capabilities
Control versus consistency An orientation to broad, overarching values can highlight consistencies across time but often obscure specific duties, impeding a sense of control Broad, overarching values that are derived from the specific duties and preferences of individuals overcomes this problem. Leaders can more readily translate grand values with specific duties.
Control versus capability In novel settings, individuals are more likely to develop their capabilities but feel uncertain of their duties If individuals learn to associate the stress of uncertainty with feelings of challenge and excitement, this problem in novel settings dissipates
Consistency versus capability When people contemplate the achievements that are always valued, they became more aware of their deficiencies& they feel their capabilities are limited If people feel their qualities are malleable, this awareness of deficiencies highlights opportunities to extend their capabilities
Cooperation versus control

Interventions that foster cooperation can obscure the duties of individuals and, therefore, impede a sense of control. To illustrate, either deliberately or unwittingly, individuals can shift their social identity to include more people. Rather than identify themselves with a confined group, such as "devotees of Michael Bolton", they might identify themselves with an extensive group, such as "devotees of music".

As the breadth and heterogeneity of their social identity escalates, people become more likely to perceive their environment as cooperative. That is, the majority of individuals in their environment will belong to this social identity--and people are more inclined to trust that members of their group, rather than members of other groups, will be cooperative (Krueger, 2007;; Wit & Kerr, 2002).

Nevertheless, this heterogeneity obscures the duties of individuals. That is, people tend to decipher their duties from the norms and practices that epitomize their group (Hogg, 2000;; see subjective uncertainty reduction theory). They feel obliged to emulate these practices. But, if the group is heterogeneous, the members will exhibit a diversity of behaviors. The norms cannot be extracted unequivocally. The duties of individuals are uncertain, compromising their sense of control.

Yet, one constellation of practices can be initiated to resolve this problem. In particular, these practices foster trust towards other people--including people from other groups. For example, exposure to feminine voices (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010), illuminated conditions (Zhong, Bohns, & Gino, 2010), and even the smell of citrus has been shown to foster this trust (Lilenquist, Zhong, & Galinsky, 2010).

Once trust is established, people can then confine the scope of their social identity. They can identify themselves with exclusive groups. As their social identity becomes more confined, people become more certain of which norms or duties to fulfill--but still trust people who do not belong to these collectives. These individuals can perceive their duties as unambiguous but their environment as cooperative.

Cooperation versus consistency

The other pairs of determinants can also be reconciled. To demonstrate, the achievements and endeavors that are valued in society tend to change over time. In past centuries, the capacity of people to thrive in battle, or to execute the same manual task repeatedly, was cherished. In recent decades, however, other capacities, such as computer skills, are valued instead.

Yet, across time, one feature of these achievements or endeavors was always valued: the capacity of people to outperform rivals. A person who prevails in any contest is always granted more rewards and recognition than a person who does not prevail. Therefore, if people are acutely aware that victors are always valued, they recognize that societal values are consistent across time. This determinant of purpose and meaning is fulfilled.

Unfortunately, if people are attuned to the recognition and rewards that victors are granted, they are not as likely to perceive their environment as cooperative. Specifically, whenever individuals strive to outperform each other, they are not as inclined to cooperate (Porter, 2005;; Ryan, Pintrich, & Midgley, 2001). They compete vigorously rather than collaborate effectively. Therefore, if people feel their colleagues are fixated on supremacy or victory, they presume their environment is uncooperative.

This complication, however, can be redressed. In particular, individuals should devote themselves to a cause or pursuit that most of their social network, including friends and colleagues, approve or embrace as well. They might, for example, join a collective that attempts to conserve resources or prevent war.

When individuals participate in these ventures, they strive to prevail over rivals--such as reckless corporations or potential warmongers. They become primed to pursue victory. They are, therefore, more attuned to a value that is rewarded consistently over time: the capacity to outperform rivals. Yet, these rivals tend to be remote. They are located in distant locations or faraway communities. The immediate social environment is bereft of rivals and, therefore, is not perceived as hostile. Individuals can, therefore, feel that societal values are consistent across time, while their environment is cooperative.

Cooperation versus capabilities

Initiatives that promote uniformity across a workgroup or community will, typically, foster cooperation but impede the capacity of people to acquire distinct capabilities. Fortunately, some initiatives can both promote cooperation and facilitate the development of distinct capabilities.

For instance, in some organizations, individuals are assigned some tasks in which they have developed expertise and some tasks in which they are inexperienced. They are granted authority only on the tasks in which they have developed significant expertise (cf., Albert, 2003, 2006). Consequently, across their profile of roles, the level of authority is similar across individuals. Status is relatively homogenous. This equality has been shown to promote trust and cooperation (Cozzolino, 2011).

Yet, despite this equality, individuals are granted the opportunity to progress and prevail on specific tasks. They can develop a distinct profile of skills and attributes. A cooperative environment, therefore, does not preclude the acquisition of capabilities.

Control versus consistency

Individuals are often apprised of the overarching values or goals of organizations. Leaders will often allude to sweeping, intangible values and goals. They might inspire their employees with rousing slogans, such as "We need to be the most innovative software organization" or "We will become renowned for the best service".

These sweeping values and goals tend to be consistent over time. The attempt of organizations to construct innovative software or offer excellent service, for example, is unlikely to change frequently across the decade. Consequently, when individuals are apprised of these strategies, they become convinced that values will remain consistent over time.

Yet, these sweeping values and goals do not offer any insight into the precise duties and responsibilities of individuals. That is, this orientation to intangible values and goals, sometimes called an abstract construal, tends to override an awareness of precise details (Trope & Liberman, 2003). Consistent values over time, therefore, may obscure the duties and obligations of employees, diminishing a sense of control.

Indeed, in many organizations, the overarching values and strategies of organizations are developed in isolation of the existing duties and obligations. According to reactive approach motivation theory (e.g., Nash, McGregor, & Prentice, 2011), people often shift their attention to broad, overarching goals to distract themselves from more pressing and unpleasant demands. Consequently, the overarching goals and the specific duties of employees may often conflict with each other.

Fortunately, this problem can be circumvented. Managers could attempt to distill the overarching values and strategies of the organization from the specific duties and preferences of employees. They could encourage employees to specify the duties they fulfill now as well as the tasks they would like to complete in the future. They could then, gradually and deliberately, derive values and strategies that assimilate these duties and preferences.

Consequently, managers will not only be able to derive values and strategies that are consistent across time. They will also be able to specify the duties and obligations that correspond to these values and strategies. These duties, therefore, will be unambiguous rather than amorphous.

Control versus capability

As individuals strive to develop their capabilities, their duties are often obscured and their sense of control plummets. Specifically, when individuals are motivated to develop their capabilities, they often gravitate to novel experiences. They might, for example, attempt unfamiliar tasks or interact with people from foreign cultures (Keinan & Kivetz, 2010). These novel experiences may expand their repertoire of knowledge and skills, extending their capabilities.

Yet, in these novel settings, individuals are often uncertain how to act. They have not been exposed to these settings long enough to learn which behaviors will be endorsed and which behaviors will be punished. They are not sure of their duties and obligations, compromising their sense of control.

Fortunately, if individuals choose to undertake stressful, uncomfortable, or unpredictable activities to challenge themselves, such as swim in icy water, this complication tends to dissolve. Specifically, over time, these individuals associate a wave of stress with feelings of choice (Dienstbier, 1989). They experience a sense of challenge and excitement, corresponding to a spike in adrenaline, rather than a feeling of threat and uncertainty, evoked by an upsurge in cortisol (Tomaka, Blascovich, Kelsey, & Leitten, 1993).

Consequently, in novel settings, these individuals are not only more likely to extend their gamut of skills and capabilities, but will also experience a feeling of challenge and control. Feelings of threat and uncertainty will abate. They can develop capabilities in novel settings, therefore, while they enjoy a sense of control.

Consistency versus Capability

Finally, when individuals perceive the values of society as consistent across time, they may become more inclined to doubt their capabilities. That is, to distill these stable values, individuals need to identify which achievements are rewarded. They need to clarify which endeavors are cherished.

As they contemplate which achievements are valued, individuals may become more attuned to their deficiencies. They might become aware of qualities they have not acquired but are integral to success. They may feel their capabilities are limited.

Fortunately, one set of initiatives circumvent this complications. In particular, some initiatives and practices instill an incremental theory of malleability--the assumption that people can develop their fundamental qualities (e.g., Dweck, 2006). Therefore, as people deliberate on the achievements that are valued over time, and then recognize their existing deficiencies, they become more aware of the opportunity to improve. They feel they can acquire other skills and enhance their abilities, extending their repertoire of capabilities.

Limitations to past research

Future research needs to overcome three limitations of previous studies. First, past research has not established the vast array of benefits that people who experience a sense of purpose and meaning are likely to enjoy.

Admittedly, research has shown that meaning in life does correlate with wellbeing (Ho, Cheung & Cheung, 2010), stability in mood (Melton & Schulenberg, 2008), longevity (Boyle, Barnes, Buchman, & Bennett, 2009), immune function (Friedman, Hayney, Love, Singer, & Ryff, 2007), and positive attitudes to work (Sparks & Schenk, 2001). In contrast, feelings of futility coincide with substance abuse (Newcomb & Harlow, 1986), cigarette smoking (Konkoly Thege, Bachner, Martos, & Kushnir (2009), suicidal ideation (Harlow, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1986), and depression (Mascaro & Rosen, 2005).

Nevertheless, previous studies have not examined many other potential benefits of purpose and meaning. Specifically, purpose and meaning should diminish impulsive decisions and, therefore, curb many other behaviors that have been imputed to impulsivity, such as gambling, unhealthy eating, and impetuous purchases. Furthermore, purpose and meaning should amplify the inclination to develop resources, such as a learning orientation. In addition, purpose and meaning should increase receptivity to negative emotions, culminating in more ambivalent emotions and acceptance (Hayes et al., 2004).

Furthermore, previous studies have not clarified the direction of causality. That is, many of these benefits could foster purpose and meaning rather than vice versa. Purpose and meaning, therefore, needs to be manipulated experimentally.

Second, previous research has not established whether or not the determinants of purpose and meaning are also associated with these benefits. According to this theory, when people feel their environment is cooperative, their duties are unambiguous, the values of society are consistent across time, and their capabilities are distinct, they should experience many of the benefits that are attributed to meaning: They should be more persistent, responsible, and resilient but not as averse to negative emotions or susceptible to biases. Only some of these possibilities, however, have been established empirically.

Third, previous research has not established the conditions or characteristics that foster two or more determinants of purpose and meaning. Some interventions could foster one determinant but impede other determinants of meaning. Any improvement in meaning, therefore, may be transient.

To facilitate this research, this article specifies some of the variables that could be manipulated and measured. In particular, this article enumerates:

Significance of this research

A plethora of interventions has been developed to curb substance abuse, unhealthy eating, problem gambling, aggression, impulsive crimes, radicalization, mental illness, prejudice, and many other social problems. Nevertheless, interventions that solve one problem could potentially aggravate other problems. To illustrate, after individuals are inspired to leave radical collectives, such as gangs, they often experience a sense of futility and isolation, increasing their susceptibility to depression and other affective disorders.

This project, however, substantiates a theory that circumvents this concern. In particular, when individuals experience a sense of purpose and meaning, all of these problems seem to subside. Attempts to cultivate the conditions that foster purpose and meaning, therefore, may be a more effective and efficient means to diminish these undesirable problems.

Procedures that can be used to prime the four determinants of meaning

A variety of procedures can be used to prime either a sense of cooperation, trust, and inclusion or a feeling of competition, distrust, or exclusion. For example:

Several procedures can be used to evoke a sense of certainty or uncertainty about the duties and standards that need to be fulfilled. To illustrate&


A few procedures could be applied to reinforce or challenge the assumption that values and rewards are consistent over time. Most of these procedures were developed for different purposes, however. For instance:

Finally, a variety of procedures can be implemented to shape the degree to which people feel they have developed many distinct capabilities, analogous to self-esteem or self-efficacy. Indeed, many of the manipulations of self-esteem could be applicable:

Measures of the four determinants of meaning

In one of the studies that was reported by Stillman, Baumeister, Lambert, Crescioni, DeWall, and Fincham (2009), participants completed a questionnaire that gauges a sense of morality, efficacy or control, purpose, and self-worth respectively. These constructs roughly align to the four determinants of meaning that were presented in the overview.

A variety of measures either directly or indirectly assess the degree to which individuals feel vulnerable to ambiguous duties. To illustrate:

Manipulations of the conditions and characteristics that should foster the four determinants of meaning

Many conditions or features in the environment affect the extent to which individuals assume their environment is cooperative and feel certain about their duties. To illustrate, when the environment is dark (Zhong, Bohns, & Gino, 2010), infused with the smell of citrus (Lilenquist, Zhong, & Galinsky, 2010), or populated by feminine rather than masculine people (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010), people are more trusting. In particular, they assume that even members of other communities are not threatening.

Consequently, they are more inclined to assume people will be cooperative. In addition, even if they do not fulfill their duties, they do not feel they will be harmed appreciably, diminishing their aversion to ambiguous duties.

Measures of the conditions and characteristics that should foster the four determinants of meaning

According to the third proposition of this model, conditions that foster one determinant of meaning tend to impede the other determinants of meaning. Six principles can be applied to reconcile these conflicts. Measures that gauge these six principles appear in the following table.

Measure Internal consistency Number of items Sample item Other notes
Intergroup trust (Paolini, Hewstone, & Cairns, 2012, pg. 1415) .88 (Paolini, Hewstone, & Cairns, 2012, pg. 1415) 8 Members of other ethnic communities will exploit me if I trust them The items have not been published in journals& the authors will need to be contacted to retrieve the items.
Conventional activism (Corning & Myers, 2002) .96 (Corning & Myers, 2002) 28 Display a poster or bumper sticker with a political message 7 of the items relate to risky or illegal activities, such as "engage in an illegal act as part of a political protest" and should not be included in this study.
Servant leadership (Ehrhart, 2004) .96 (Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, & Roberts, 2008) 24 My supervisor makes the personal development of department employees a priority Servant leadership diminishes rampant inequality, because they leaders forego some of the power and influence. Yet, servant leadership also encourages personal development.
The perceived structure of organizational democracy-shortened version (Wegge, 2010;; Table 4). NA& the long version, comprising 43 items, generated a Cronbach's alpha of .98 (Weber, Unterrainer, & Schmid, 2009) 16 In which of the following areas of decision-making do you participate directly within your team or workgroup: Major changes in the way one or more departments are organized
Performance avoid orientation (reverse scored& VandeWalle, 1997) .88 (VandeWalle, 1997) 4 I would prefer to avoid situations at work where I might perform poorly. Low levels of a performance avoid orientation indicate that people embrace settings in which they may not perform well& they accept challenging tasks
Implicit theories of malleability (Levy, Stroessner, & Dweck, 1998) .90 (Heslin, Latham, & VandeWalle, 2005) 8 People can change even their most basic qualities

Procedures that can be used to prime or manipulate meaning itself

A variety of procedures have been developed to manipulate the degree to which people experience a sense of purpose or meaning. Some of these procedures were developed to assess the meaning maintenance model. Typically, in one condition, individuals are exposed to material that challenges the coherence of events. In the control conditions, individuals are not exposed to this material. For example:

One of the complications of these manipulations, however, is that people strive to reinforce their sense of meaning whenever feelings of coherence are threatened. Consequently, the detrimental effects of limited meaning could be obscured.

Measures of meaning

Some measures directly assess the extent to which people experience a sense of purpose and meaning. For example:

Other measures gauge some of the hallmarks of meaning, such as a commitment to future pursuits. That is, if people demonstrate this hallmark of meaning, they should:

Measures of the benefits that meaning evoke

The following table presents measures that can be administered to assess the five mechanisms that underpin the benefits of purpose and meaning: self-determination, delayed gratification, motivation to develop, receptivity to negative emotions, and resistance to bias. Some information about each measure is included as well:

Measure Internal consistency Number of items Sample item Other notes
Subjective vitality (Ryan & Frederick, 1997, pg 540) .84 (Ryan & Frederick, 1997) 7 At this time, I have energy and spirit Items c and f will be adapted to refer only to the present or future
Titration method to assess delay discounting (e.g., Bickel, Odum, & Madden, 1999) NA For 6 delays, repeat the question until a reverse of preferences is uncovered Would you prefer $250 now or $1000 in 365 days time For each delay, a series of options can be provided at once
Goal orientation (Button, Mathieu, & Zajac, 1996) .68 - .77 and .79 - .85 for performance and learning orientation respectively) 16 items The things I enjoy the most are the things I do the best (revere scored) Could adapt to apply to performance on this survey, such as "While completing this study..."& could use VandeWalle (1997) instead, to capture three distinct subscales.
Interest subscale of the meta-emotions scale (Mitmansgruber, Beck, Hofer, & Schubler, 2009) .82 to .85 (Mitmansgruber et al., 2009) 5 Negative emotions provide me with interesting information about myself This scale measures the extent to which individuals perceive their emotions as interesting, which promotes learning and fascination
White bear suppression inventory (Wegner & Zanakos, 1994) .87 to .89 (Wegner & Zanakos, 1994) 15 There are things I prefer not to think about Measures the tendency to avoid or suppress unpleasant thoughts, amplifying biases& other measures, such as preference for consistency and avoidance of emotions (Maio & Esses, 2001), could be examined as well.

Other outcomes or consequences of these mechanisms could be examined as well. Possible measures include:

Furthermore, according to the meaning maintenance model, a sense of meaning should diminish a variety of cognitive biases. Therefore, the researchers could also include measures of various biases. Studies that were undertaken to investigate the meaning maintenance model explore some of these biases (e.g., Proulx & Heine, 2006). Yet, many other biases could be examined, such as:

To override the limitations of self-report measures, some researchers administer behavioral measures of impulsive or responsible behavior. For example:

Other researchers administer physiological measures instead. For example, if individuals prioritize the accumulation of resources over the experience of positive emotions--a consequence of meaning--they should:

Potential moderators of these relationships

To be continued...

Potential controls that should be considered in these studies

Many other procedures need to be considered to enhance the study and to reject alternative explanations. For example, additional questions may be needed to reinforce the cover story and obscure the purpose of this study. These procedures will be expanded later...


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