A minimal amount of information is known about how adolescents and emerging adults construe purpose and meaning in life, leaving many researchers to assume youth think about these constructs consistent with scientific understandings. In this preregistered study, we compared adolescent and emerging adult conceptions of purpose and meaning using directed content analysis. High school and college students were randomly assigned to write about purpose, meaning, or a control topic. Themes mentioned within the written samples did not significantly differ across purpose and meaning conditions, and this pattern did not significantly vary between adolescents and emerging adults. However, many who wrote about meaning mentioned purpose explicitly, suggesting nuanced differentiation. These findings can inform how purpose and meaning are studied and the development of future interventions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Applied Psychology
- Life-span and Life-course Studies