A Better Tomorrow: Toward a Stronger Science of Youth Purpose

Anthony L. Burrow, Patrick L. Hill, Kaylin Ratner, Rachel Sumner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Having a sense of purpose in life has been discussed as a psychological asset for promoting positive youth development. Yet confidence in the benefits of purpose has accumulated faster than rigorous confirmation of their existence among youth, using instruments and methods calibrated to the developmental stage of those under study. Here, the authors illuminate four problems this asymmetry creates for drawing inferences from extant research on youth purpose, namely its reliance on (1) unclear scientific criteria for distinguishing “youth” and measures that include developmentally presumptuous items, (2) single-informant and self-report methods, (3) misapplication of cross-sectional designs to test prospective or causal theories, and (4) analytic techniques insensitive to purpose content. In delineating these problems, the authors consider the extent to which the three empirical contributions included in this issue are responsive to each and may provide templates to guide future studies of youth purpose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
JournalResearch in Human Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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