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Feeling Like You Know Who You Are: Perceived True Self-Knowledge and Meaning in Life


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The essence of who a person really is has been labeled the "true self," and an emerging area of research suggests that this self-concept plays an important role in the creation of a fulfilling existence. Three studies investigate the role of the subjective feeling that one possesses knowledge of one's true self in meaning in life judgments. Consistently, the perception of availability of true self-knowledge (operationalized as the metacognitive experience of ease in describing one's true self) predicted meaning in life judgments over and above other potentially related constructs such as mood and self-esteem. Conversely, the subjective availability of knowledge of how one actually behaves (i.e., one's actual self) was unrelated to meaning in life judgments. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.
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Personality and Social Psychology
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0146167211400424
published online 14 March 2011Pers Soc Psychol Bull
Rebecca J. Schlegel, Joshua A. Hicks, Laura A. King and Jamie Arndt
Feeling Like You Know Who You Are: Perceived True Self-Knowledge and Meaning in Life
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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
XX(X) 1 –12
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Social Psychology, Inc
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DOI: 10.1177/0146167211400424
Feeling Like You Know Who You Are:
Perceived True Self-Knowledge
and Meaning in Life
Rebecca J. Schlegel1, Joshua A. Hicks1,
Laura A. King2, and Jamie Arndt2
The essence of who a person really is has been labeled the “true self,” and an emerging area of research suggests that this
self-concept plays an important role in the creation of a fulfilling existence. Three studies investigate the role of the subjective
feeling that one possesses knowledge of one’s true self in meaning in life judgments. Consistently, the perception of availability
of true self-knowledge (operationalized as the metacognitive experience of ease in describing one’s true self) predicted
meaning in life judgments over and above other potentially related constructs such as mood and self-esteem. Conversely,
the subjective availability of knowledge of how one actually behaves (i.e., one’s actual self) was unrelated to meaning in life
judgments. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.
true self-concept, actual self-concept, meaning in life, metacognitive ease, self-knowledge
Received March 5, 2010; revision accepted December 18, 2010
“Who in the world am I?” Ah, that’s the great puzzle!
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
People need not fall down the rabbit hole to confront the
question that Lewis Carroll refers to as the “great puzzle.”
Figuring out “who in the world am I?” is a quintessential
challenge that people face, and for many people, an important
key to solving this puzzle is the true self. The true self is
defined as who a person really is, regardless of his or her out-
ward behavior. Many people believe that this true self is a
vitally important part of a person’s identity (e.g., Gergen,
1991). Despite the popularity of lay beliefs about the true self,
there is little empirical evidence for the psychological foun-
dations and functions of the true self-concept (i.e., a person’s
avowed true self). Recently, we argued that one function of
the true self-concept is to create meaning in people’s lives
(Schlegel, Hicks, Arndt, & King, 2009). In five studies we
found not only a positive relationship between the cognitive
accessibility of one’s true self-concept and meaning in life but
also that experimentally increasing the accessibility of the
true self led to heightened perceptions that life is meaning-
ful. The current studies build on this theoretical framework
to examine whether the subjective feeling of knowing one’s
true self also predicts meaning in life. Before turning to the
current studies, we first discuss the importance of the true
self both in general and as a source of meaning specifically.
The True Self
The idea that the true self is an important part of human exis-
tence can be traced back to Aristotle (1998, original work
circa 350 bce), who believed that the highest form of excel-
lence was achieved through living in accord with one’s true
self. This idea is a recurring theme throughout the history of
both psychology and philosophy and is featured in the works
of such notable thinkers as Kierkegaard, James, and Rogers.
Until recently the idea of a true self had mostly faded from
the fore of contemporary psychology but continued to per-
vade popular culture through books, news stories, televi-
sion shows, and movies. This prevalence suggests that the
true self continues to be a fundamental aspect of the con-
1Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
2University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
Corresponding Author:
Rebecca J. Schlegel, Texas A&M University, Psychology Department,
4235 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4235
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2 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin XX(X)
temporary human condition, and empirical research is begin-
ning to support this notion.
People like and value their true self-concepts more than
other self-concepts. Harter (2002) found that adolescents
liked attributes that they believed described their true self but
did not like attributes that they believed described aspects of
their self that felt less authentic. Similarly, college students
reported liking their true self traits more than their public self
traits (despite evidence that the true self traits were less
socially desirable than the public self; Schlegel et al., 2009).
Simply by being a part of the true self-concept, some traits,
regardless of their desirability, become cherished parts of the
Consistent with this idea, simply reflecting on one’s true
self-concept can confer psychological benefits. In a study
conducted by Andersen and Williams (1985), participants
were asked to reflect on positive aspects of their true self
(i.e., private thoughts and cognitions) or positive aspects of
their actual self (i.e., public behaviors). Thinking about one’s
private thoughts and cognitions led to increased self-esteem,
whereas thinking about one’s positive public behaviors did
not influence self-esteem. Similarly, a series of studies by
Arndt, Schimel, and colleagues (Arndt, Schimel, Greenberg,
& Pyszczynski, 2002; Schimel, Arndt, Banko, & Cook,
2004; Schimel, Arndt, Pyszczynski, & Greenberg, 2001)
suggests that activating the “intrinsic self,” or beliefs about
who you really are, leads to less general defensiveness, con-
formity, and self-handicapping.
Expressing the true self also predicts positive outcomes.
Studies of authenticity (defined as the unimpeded functioning
of one’s true self in daily life) by Kernis, Goldman, and col-
leagues (Kernis & Goldman, 2004, 2006; Lakey, Kernis,
Heppner, & Lance, 2008) find that self-reported authentic-
ity relates to a host of important outcomes, including self-
actualization, self-esteem, and psychological distress. Similarly,
authentic self-expression within one’s social roles predicts
positive mood during role-related tasks as well as overall
well-being (Bettencourt & Sheldon, 2001; Sheldon, Ryan,
Rawsthorne, & Ilardi, 1997). A sense of concordance between
one’s true self and goals (McGregor & Little, 1998; Sheldon
& Elliot, 1999; Sheldon & Houser-Marko, 2001) as well as
between one’s true self and public self (Harter, 1992; Schlegel
et al., 2009) has also been shown to predict well-being.
Taken together, these lines of research converge to suggest
that the true self is an important contributor to psychological
The True Self as a Source
of Meaning in Life
In addition to these previously observed relationships, we spe-
cifically contend that the true self plays a pivotal role in help-
ing people create meaning in their lives (Schlegel et al., 2009).
Why might the true self be used to help create meaning? In
Western culture (at least), people use their true self-concept
as a guide for a variety of important decisions (e.g., Baumeister,
1991; Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985). In
this way, the true self-concept exports legitimacy and value to
decisions that may otherwise feel arbitrary and, in so doing,
enhances the meaningfulness of these life directions. For
example, when choosing a career, the choice that is consistent
with one’s true self-concept may be evaluated as a more
meaningful life pursuit. Imagine a person who is considering
two alternatives such as artist and scientist; in many ways
neither is inherently more meaningful than the other. But for
a person who believes she/he is intelligent, skeptical, logical,
and detail oriented, being a scientist may be seen not only as
a more enjoyable pursuit but also as a more meaningful way
to live his/her life. Consistent with this argument, empirical
evidence suggests that people are more satisfied with and
judge their goals (or other behaviors) as more meaningful
when they are consistent with their true self-concept (Bellah
et al., 1985; Debats, Drost, & Hansen, 1995; Krause, 2007;
McGregor & Little, 1998).
A recent series of studies employed a variety of social-
cognitive techniques to begin directly exploring the relation-
ship between the true self and the experience of meaning in
life (Schlegel et al., 2009). These studies specifically exam-
ined the cognitive accessibility of the true self, reasoning
that meaning in life would increase with the accessibility
of this meaning-central aspect of the self. In accord with
this guiding hypothesis, individual differences in true self
concept accessibility, measured with reaction times to true-
self-relevant words, predicted meaning in life (Schlegel et al.,
2009, Studies 1, 2, and 4). Furthermore, manipulating the
accessibility of true self traits (e.g., via cognitive priming
procedures) also led to higher meaning in life (Schlegel et al.,
2009, Studies 3 and 5). These results suggest that like other
sources of meaning in life, priming the true self can enhance
meaning in life (Hicks & King, 2008; Hicks, Schlegel, &
King, 2010; King, Hicks, Krull, & Del Gaiso, 2006).
But an important piece of the puzzle may be obscured by
relying on the accessibility of true self characteristics. Although
indices (or manipulations of) accessibility tell us about what is
active in memory, this activation can be independent of a per-
son’s awareness of that content. To illustrate, in our previous
work (Schlegel et al., 2009, Study 4) we assessed individual
differences in participants’ true self concepts using a reac-
tion time task and asked participants to complete an explicit
measure of true self-awareness (i.e., the awareness subscale
of the Authenticity Inventory; Kernis & Goldman, 2006).
The two measures were not correlated (r = -.06), suggesting
that each measure was tapping into separate aspects of true
self knowledge.
In the present studies we thus examine whether the ability
to use the true self to create meaning depends on the extent to
which the true self is felt to be known. If the true self feels
difficult to imagine or describe, it is unlikely to serve as a
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Schlegel et al. 3
consistent source of meaning. Thus, to more clearly discern
the importance of the subjective feeling of knowing the true
self, the present studies examine how experiential thoughts
about one’s true self influence meaning in life. Although cog-
nitive accessibility may tap a relatively nonconscious aspect
of the true self, the current studies focus on the subjective
experience of possessing true self-knowledge. In this way,
the current studies more directly inform the critical role of
feeling like you know “who you really are” in the experience
of meaning in life.
The proposition that subjective feelings of true self-
knowledge should enhance meaning follows from a number
of historical perspectives that suggest that true self-knowl-
edge is a critical component of healthy human functioning
(Erikson, 1963; Horney, 1950; Jung, 1953; Maslow, 1968;
May, 1983; Miller, 1979; Rogers, 1959). Similarly, studies
have shown that self-reported true self awareness on Kernis
and Goldman’s Authenticity Inventory is related to self-
actualization, vitality, mindfulness, self-esteem, active cop-
ing, and decreased defensiveness (Kernis & Goldman, 2006;
Lakey et al., 2008). Harter (1992) also found that adolescents
who felt that they knew their true self reported higher self-
esteem compared to their counterparts.
Of course, this leads to an important question: How should
scholars both measure and manipulate the feeling of know-
ing the true self to examine the role of this subjective experi-
ence in meaning in life? Although previous work has relied on
traditional self-report measures to capture perceived self-
knowledge (e.g., asking people to reflect on how well they
know their true self), we did not see this approach as suitable
for our purposes. Although such self-report approaches have
their merits (see Paulhus & Vazire, 2007, for a review), they
may fail to capture the experiential feeling that one has access
to one’s true self. We thus developed a novel approach that
borrows from the literature on social cognition to capture
the online metacognitive experience of knowing (or not
knowing), in the present case, one’s true self. Specifically, we
utilize the metacognitive experience of ease or difficulty
(Schwarz, 1998; Schwarz & Clore, 1996) as a means of
assessing and manipulating perceived access to true self-
knowledge. Because people use the metacognitive experience
of ease (or difficulty) as a cue to how much they know about
that topic (Alter & Oppenheimer, 2009; Schwarz, 2004), we
reasoned that experiencing true self description as easy (or
difficult) should directly bear on metacognitive perceptions
of true self-knowledge.
True self-knowledge conceptualized in this manner, a
number of novel hypotheses then become amenable to empir-
ical scrutiny. Specifically, the current studies relied on the idea
of metacognitive ease to explore what happens when true self
description is experienced as easy or difficult. From the present
perspective, if true self-knowledge is experienced as easily
accessed, people should report higher meaning in life. And con-
versely, to the extent that perceived true self-knowledge is
threatened when true self-description is difficult, perceptions
of life’s meaning should decrease. In this way, these studies
allow us then to also examine a question that we could not
address in our previous work—are there potential downsides
to the use of the true self as a meaning source? For example,
what happens when a person is uncertain about who he or
she really is?
To test these predictions, we utilized both individual dif-
ferences in (Studies 1 and 2) and manipulated (Study 3) ease
or difficulty of true self-description. For each study, we pre-
dicted that easy true self-description would enhance percep-
tions of meaning in life, whereas difficult true self-description
would threaten perceptions of meaning in life. For comparison
purposes (as well as to help ensure that any observed effects
were unique to the true self and not driven by more general
perceived self-knowledge), we also assessed perceived actual
self-knowledge in all three studies (Bargh, McKenna, &
Fitzsimmons, 2002; Schlegel et al., 2009). The actual self is
similar to a public self and defined to participants as “who
you are around most people, even if this isn’t who you really
are.” We predicted that actual self-knowledge would have no
effect on meaning in life.
Overview and Predictions for Study 1
In Study 1, participants were asked to write a detailed essay
about their true self, their actual self (self-related control
topic), or the campus bookstore (unrelated control topic). We
indirectly assessed the relative availability of self-knowledge
(or bookstore knowledge) by content analyzing the essays
for detail using a technique developed by Norman and Aron
(2003). These researchers assessed the cognitive availability
of feared and hoped for possible selves by having participants
write essays about either self. They argued that the detail of
the essay is an indication of the cognitive availability of that
self to the individual. Thus, we predicted that the effect of
writing topic would be moderated by the detail or elaboration
of the essays. Because the participants who write detailed
essays should have more available knowledge on the topic,
detail should predict meaning in life in the true self condition
only. The availability of knowledge of one’s actual self or the
campus bookstore should not be important indicators to life’s
meaning; thus, we predicted that detail would not predict
meaning in life in those two conditions.
Study 1
Participants. In partial fulfillment of a course requirement,
75 participants (52 females) enrolled in an introductory psy-
chology course at the University of Missouri participated.
Ages ranged from 18 to 25 (M = 18.45, SD = 1.21). Represented
ethnicities included 88% European American, 4% African
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4 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin XX(X)
American, 5% Hispanic American, 1% Asian American, and
2% other.
Materials and procedure: Writing task. Upon arrival to the
laboratory, participants were escorted to a private cubicle
where they completed all tasks on a computer. Participants
were instructed they would complete a variety of tasks related
to different projects conducted by the Department of Psycho-
logical Sciences. After completing filler measures, partici-
pants were asked to write an essay about their true self, their
actual self, or the bookstore. They were instructed that “we
[are] interested in how college students describe their self [or
the university]” and that they were to write about their self
(or a building on campus) for 6 minutes.
In the true self condition, participants were given the
following directions:
Your true self is who you believe you really are. Specifi-
cally, we’d like you to think about the characteristics,
roles or attributes that define who you really are—even
if those characteristics are different than how you
sometimes act in your daily life.
In the actual self condition, participants were instructed,
Your actual self is who you are in your daily life.
Specifically, we’d like you to think about the charac-
teristics, roles or attributes that define who are in
your daily life—even if those characteristics are dif-
ferent than who you really are.
Participants were further encouraged to “really get into the
writing task, and provide as much detail as possible about the
particular writing topic.”
Meaning in life, self-esteem, and mood measures. After the
writing task, participants were instructed to complete a “Life
Inventory Survey to assesses how [their] thoughts and atti-
tudes regarding various aspects of [their] lives.” Participants
completed two measures of meaning in life. First, partici-
pants completed the five-item Presence subscale of the
Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ; Steger, Frazier, Oishi,
& Kaler, 2006; M = 4.75, SD = 1.25, a = .88; sample item =
“I understand my life’s meaning”). Second, participants rated
four items adapted from the Purpose in Life test (Crumbaugh
& Maholick, 1964; M = 4.99, SD = 1.26, a = .82; sample item
= “In life, I have very clear goals and aims”). These items
have been identified as tapping meaning in life, specifically,
and not simply positive affect (McGregor & Little, 1998) and
have been used extensively in recent research on meaning in
life (King et al., 2006). As expected, the two meaning scales
were highly correlated (r = .76); therefore, a composite
meaning in life variable was created by averaging the scales
(M = 4.89, SD = 1.22). To control for any mood effects on
meaning, participants rated six positive mood adjectives
(e.g., happy, joy, pleased) and five negative mood adjectives
(e.g., unhappy, depressed/blue, worried/anxious) to provide
a measure state positive affect (PA) (M = 4.33, SD = 1.18,
a = 0.89) and state negative affect (NA) (M = 3.11,
SD = 1.06, a = .88; Diener & Emmons, 1984; Diener, Smith,
& Fujita, 1995). Finally, to control for the possibility that
writing about the true self may simply enhance self-worth
and, in turn, influence meaning in life, participants com-
pleted the 10-item Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosen-
berg, 1965; M = 5.34, SD = 1.12, a = .91; sample item =
“I feel that I have a number of good qualities”). All items
for all measures were rated on a scale from 1 (very slightly or
not at all) to 7 (extremely), and all measures were presented
in random order.
Content analysis. A coding system developed by Norman
and Aron (2003) was used to assess the cognitive availability
of the particular self (bookstore). Four trained research assis-
tants, unfamiliar with the hypotheses or purpose of the study,
were asked to rate the level of detail of each essay (1 = not
at all detailed, 7 = extremely detailed). Interrater reliability
for the four detail scores was adequate (a = .77). These scores
were then averaged to create a total detail measure (M = 4.84,
SD = 1.16).
Results and Brief Discussion
Preliminary analyses. Zero-order correlations among the
variables included in this study are shown in Table 1. Results
of an analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed significant differ-
ences among the detail ratings for each condition, F(2, 72) =
3.93, p < .05. A Tukey post hoc test revealed that the true self
essays were rated marginally more detailed (M = 5.01, SD =
1.24) compared to the actual self essays (M = 4.34, SD = 1.15;
p < .10), and the mean detail rating of the actual self condi-
tion was significantly lower compared to the control condi-
tion (M = 5.18, SD = 0.94, for the control condition; p < .05).
No other differences were significant. Tolerance for the
detail variable (0.83) suggested that multicollinearity was
not an issue in the analyses.
Primary analyses. To examine the potential effects of elab-
oration and writing topic on meaning in life ratings, a regres-
sion equation was conducted. Two dummy variables were
Table 1. Correlations Among Measures, Study 1
1 2 3 4 5
1. Positive affect -.46** .26* .75** .71**
2. Negative affect -.08 -.44** -.42**
3. Detail .20* .24*
4. Self-esteem .76**
5. Meaning in life
Note: N = 75.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
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Schlegel et al. 5
significantly predict meaning in life ratings (b = -.01, p = .96
for the actual self; b = -.07, p = .58 for the bookstore).
Finally, a parallel analysis directly comparing the true self
condition to the actual self condition revealed a similar sig-
nificant interaction revealing that the simple slopes between
the true self condition and actual self condition were signifi-
cantly different (b = .22, p < .05).
The results of Study 1 are consistent with the hypothesis
that perceived true self-knowledge is an important source of
meaning. The extent to which the true self was described in a
detailed way predicted participants’ perceptions of meaning
in life. By comparison, level of detail of the actual self (and
the campus bookstore) had no effect on meaning in life.
These findings also support the contention that the psy-
chological benefits borne from knowing one’s true self are
independent of the influence that self-knowledge may have
on one’s mood or one’s self-esteem.1 Although some caution
is warranted in interpreting the null effect of self-esteem (e.g.,
because we used a trait measure of self-esteem), the present
findings are consistent with those obtained by Schimel et al.
(2001) and do not support the involvement of (level of) self-
esteem in the link between the true self and meaning in life.
Of course, one concern with the interpretation of the pres-
ent effects pertains to inferences about the ease or difficulty
of true self-description. Although content analyzing the
essays for detail has been shown to be an effective way to
implicitly assess the availability of self-concepts (Norman &
Aron, 2003), it is unclear, for example, whether participants
who wrote less detailed narratives actually experienced the
task as being difficult or, indeed, simply possessed less
detailed true selves. Because we predict that the metacogni-
tive experience of ease or difficulty should be driving the
effect, not the detail of the essays per se (cf. Schwarz, 1998),
in Study 2 we directly assessed the ease or difficulty of recall.
Overview and Predictions for Study 2
In Study 2, participants were asked to generate both a list of
words that described their true self and a list of words that
described their actual self. After completing each respective
writing task, participants were asked how difficult or easy it
was to generate the list. We predicted that subjective ease of
generating words associated with the true self would predict
meaning in life. In addition, because we utilized a within-
subjects design, we were able to control for each person’s
ease or difficulty ratings of perceived actual self-knowledge.
This feature of Study 2 also allowed us to compare the con-
tents of the true and actual self-concepts to determine how
much the two self-concepts overlapped, an issue of some
importance because the degree of overlap may be related to
the ease of self-description. If ease of self-description
relates to the overlap between the true and actual selves, ease
of self-description may serve as a proxy for the authenticity
of one’s self-aspects (which should have a relationship with
Low High
Meaning in Life
True Self
Actual Self
Figure 1. Meaning in life as a function of writing condition, Study 1
created (Aiken & West, 1991), the first comparing the true
self condition to the bookstore control condition (0 = book-
store, 1 = true self, 0 = actual self) and the second compar-
ing the actual self group to the bookstore control condition
(0 = bookstore, 1 = actual self, 0 = true self). The product of
the centered detail scores and each dummy variable were used
as the two-way interaction terms. We also included centered
self-esteem, PA, and NA as covariates.
Both PA and self-esteem significantly related to meaning
in life. Neither detail nor the condition dummy variables pre-
dicted meaning in life. However, the interaction between
detail scores and the first dummy variable was significant
(see Table 2). The simple slopes for all three conditions are
shown in Figure 1. These slopes indicate that greater true self
detail was positively associated with meaning in life (b = .41,
p < .05), whereas actual self and bookstore detail did not
Table 2. Summary of Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting
Meaning in Life, Study 1
Predictor b
Step 1 (R2 change = .65, p < .001)
Positive affect .28*
Negative affect -.06
Self-esteem .52**
Detail .14
Dummy 1 (true self vs. bookstore) .06
Dummy 2 (actual self vs. bookstore) .06
Detail × Dummy 2 -.11
Step 2 (R2 change = .03, p = .025)
Detail × Dummy 1 .29*
Note: N = 75, R2 = .67.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
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6 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin XX(X)
meaning in life; e.g., Kernis & Goldman, 2006). Thus,
determining the relationship between true or actual self
overlap and self-description ease and controlling for the
shared variance between the two variables promise to pro-
vide a clearer picture of the unique importance of per-
ceived self-knowledge.
A second goal of Study 2 was to extend the current findings
to a nonstudent sample. The vast majority of the studies
investigating the importance of the true self have relied on
student samples. This may be of some concern given that the
importance of the true self may change with age. For example,
Harter (1999, 2002; Harter & Monsour, 1992) has suggested
that concerns about authenticity are important primarily dur-
ing adolescence and wane with age as people develop a greater
ability to think complexly about their various self-aspects. It is
thus important to investigate whether knowing one’s true self
continues to relate to meaning in life as people age.
Study 2
Participants. In exchange for a chance to win a gift certificate
to a local business, 304 staff members (262 women) at the
University of Missouri participated. Ages ranged from 27 to
69 (M = 44.06, SD = 9.53). Represented ethnicities included
95% European American, 1% African American, 1% Hispanic
American, and 3% other. A total of 19 participants were miss-
ing data on key predictor variables (age, true self ease, or
actual self ease) and had to be omitted from the analyses.
Materials and procedure. The measures of interest were
embedded in the context of a larger survey study that included
a variety of measures that are not discussed in the current
report (e.g., intuition). Of interest to the current study, partici-
pants were asked to describe both their true and actual selves.
Specifically, participants were told that we were interested
“in the words people use to describe different parts of them-
selves.” Participants were then asked to generate 6 words to
describe both their true and actual selves (12 words total),
defined similarly as they were in Study 1.
Immediately after making each list, participants rated two
items, one that asked how easy (and one that asked how diffi-
cult) it was to think of the words that described that self-aspect.
The difficult items were recoded so that higher scores indi-
cated greater ease. The averages of the two ease items served
as the measures of true self (M = 8.10, SD = 2.67, r = .86) and
actual self knowledge (M = 7.79, SD = 2.73, r = .80). Compar-
ing the true and actual self descriptions, a paired t test showed
that the true self was rated as easier to describe than the actual
self, though the effect size was quite small, t(303) = 2.09, p = .04,
d = .11.
A trained coder then identified the number of overlapping
words in each participant’s self-concept lists. Word pairs
were coded as matches if the words they listed were identical
(e.g., helpful and helpful) or nearly identical (e.g., supportive
and somewhat supportive) or if they were identified as syn-
onyms in an online thesaurus (e.g., thoughtful and considerate).
This revealed that the amount of overlap between people’s
true and actual selves differed considerably; participants
listed an average of 2.33 (out of 6 possible) overlapping
words (SD = 1.90, range = 0-6). As an example of a partici-
pant with completely separate self-concepts, one participant
described her true self as honest, confident, quick thinker,
creative, social butterfly, and leader but described her actual
self as wife, mother, stressed, overworked, overweight, and
challenged. By comparison, a participant with completely
overlapping self-concepts described both his true and actual
selves as pleasant, kind, easygoing, analytical, quiet, and
Participants also completed the Presence subscale of the
MLQ (M = 7.81, SD = 2.09, a = .91) and the same measures
of state PA (M = 7.71, SD = 1.94, a = .88), state NA (M = 2.81,
SD = 1.93, a = .83), and self-esteem (M = 7.43, SD = 1.43,
a = .91). All of the measures were rated on a 9-point scale.
Results and Brief Discussion
Data screening revealed three multivariate outliers with resid-
uals that were more than 3 standard deviations away from the
mean. These cases were removed from subsequent analyses,
leaving a final sample of 282. Bivariate correlations among
all study variables are presented in Table 3. Notably, the overlap
variable was positively correlated with both true and actual
self ease as well as meaning in life.
A hierarchical regression was computed to assess the
potential contribution of true self ease to meaning in life that
included PA, NA, self-esteem, age, true self-actual self over-
lap, and actual self ease as covariates in the first step and
true self ease in the second step. The results are reported in
Table 4. Given the relatively high degree of correlation
Table 3. Correlations Among Measures, Study 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Age .06 .04 .06 -.10 .04 -.02 .04
2. True self ease .55** .24** -.19** .34** .29** .19*
3. Actual self
.20** -.16** .30** .21** .33*
4. Positive
-.60** .61** .54** .16**
5. Negative
-.55** -.38** -.19**
6. Self-esteem .61** .19**
7. Meaning in
— .20**
8. TS/AS
Note: N = 282. TS/AS = true self-actual self.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
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Schlegel et al. 7
between true self ease and a number of the covariates (includ-
ing the overlap variable), it is notable that the tolerance value
for true self ease remained high (.65, which suggests that
multicollinearity was not an issue). As predicted, true self
ease was a significant predictor of meaning in life over and
above the effects of the covariates. This suggests a positive rela-
tionship between true self ease and meaning, such that the eas-
ier it was to generate words that described one’s true self, the
greater one’s judgments of meaning in life.
Finally, exploratory analyses were conducted to examine
whether age might moderate the effects of true self ease.
Because most studies concerned with the importance of the
true self have relied on student samples, it was unclear whether
the true self might become more or less important in experi-
ence of meaning in life with age. These analyses revealed that
the effect of true self ease did not interact with age (p > .30),
providing evidence that perceptions of the true self contribute
to well-being throughout adulthood.
Study 2 provides converging evidence for the role of per-
ceived true self knowledge in the creation of meaning as the
experience of ease or difficulty of true self-description pre-
dicted meaning in life judgments. Importantly, this effect was
observed after controlling for self-esteem, actual self ease,
and true self-actual self overlap. Although true self-actual
self overlap was positively related to both true and actual self
ease at the bivariate level, it was not a significant predictor of
meaning in life in the primary analyses. Furthermore, the
regression analyses suggested that the relationship between
true self ease and meaning was significant over and above
the influence of true self-actual self overlap. Thus, although
we suspect that the discrepancy between the true and actual
self has some conceptual importance (see also Schlegel et al.,
2009), it does not explain the influence of metacognitive
ease of thinking about one’s true self on the perception of
meaning in life.
Despite the convergence of results across Studies 1
and 2, interpretative ambiguities remain. Specifically, these
correlational studies preclude causal inferences. It may be the
individuals with high levels of meaning in life experience
more readily accessible true selves. As such, the primary
purpose of Study 3 was to examine the potential causal effect
of true self ease or difficulty on meaning in life with a direct
manipulation of the metacognitive ease or difficulty of true
Overview and Predictions for Study 3
In Study 3, participants listed words that they believed best
described various topics. For the final topic, participants listed
words that described either their true or their actual selves. To
manipulate the difficulty of the task, we adapted a method
used by Schwarz et al. (1991). Participants in Schwarz’s study
were instructed to list either 6 or 12 instances in which they
had been assertive and then were asked to rate their own
assertiveness. The results showed that participants who listed
6 examples of being assertive rated themselves as more asser-
tive than their counterparts who listed 12 examples. That is,
even though participants in the 12 instances condition actually
generated more examples of being assertive, the increased dif-
ficulty of the task (compared to generating 6 examples) led
them to judge themselves as less assertive.
Adapting this basic procedure, we instructed participants
to list either 5 (easy condition) or 18 (difficult condition)
descriptors of their true or actual selves. This resulted in a
2 (self: true vs. actual) × 2 (ease of recall: easy vs. difficult)
factorial design. After the task, participants completed a
manipulation check measure of ease and measures of mood
and meaning in life. We predicted that the topic of descrip-
tion would moderate the effects of the ease manipulation on
meaning in life, such that ease would matter only for partici-
pants assigned to describe their true selves.
Study 3
Participants. In partial fulfillment of a course requirement,
146 (85 females) enrolled in an introductory psychology
course at the University of Missouri participated. Ages
ranged from 18 to 25 (M = 18.55, SD = 0.99). Represented
ethnicities included 90% European American, 6% African
American, 2% Hispanic American, and 2% other. Two partici-
pants who expressed suspicion about the study’s purpose and
one participant who stated he had difficulty understanding
the materials were dropped from all analyses, resulting in
a final sample of 143 participants (ns = 32, 38, 37, and 36
for the true-easy, true-difficult, actual-easy and actual-
difficult cells, respectively).
Materials and procedure. Upon arrival, participants were
individually escorted to a private computer. Participants were
instructed that they would complete two unrelated tasks.
Participants first completed a “College Student Descriptor
Table 4. Summary of Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting
Meaning in Life, Study 2
Predictor b
Step 1, R2 change = .42, p < .001
Positive affect .29**
Negative affect .01
Self-esteem .42**
Age -.06
Actual self ease .01
TS/AS overlap .07
Step 2, R2 change = .01, p < .05
True self ease .11*
Note: N = 282. TS/AS = true self-actual self.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
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8 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin XX(X)
Study.” Participants were instructed that various random top-
ics would appear on the screen and their job would be to write
down words that they believed best described each topic. For
each topic, they were given information related to the average
number of descriptors college students have been able to
write down in previous research (e.g., “5”) and that they
should “Take your time and please try to list [5] descriptors
that best describe the [topic].” All participants first responded
to the same two prompts. The first asked participants to list
descriptors for Columbia, Missouri (they were told the aver-
age number of responses was 8 words), and the second asked
participants to list items that described breakfast (average
number of 10 words). For the third topic, half of the partici-
pants were asked to write down words that best described
their true selves, and the other half of participants were asked
to write down words that best described their actual self.
To manipulate the ease or difficulty in this study, half of
the participants in each condition were asked to write down
5 self-descriptors and the other half were asked to write
down 18 self-descriptors (adapted from Schwarz et al., 1991).
After each topic, participants rated 1 item that assessed how
easy it was to think of words that described the particular
topic on a 9-point scale. Participants rated the self description
(M = 6.23, SD = 2.12) task as significantly easier than the
other two tasks (M = 4.98, SD = 1.55), t(142) = 6.13, p < .01.
After the descriptor task, participants were instructed to
complete a “Life Attitudes Survey.” For this surveys, partici-
pants again completed the Presence subscale of the MLQ (M =
4.87, SD = 1.11, a = .86), a measure of state PA (M = 4.44,
SD = 1.02, a = .87), and a measure of state NA (M = 3.14, SD =
1.15, a = .88), all of which were on 7-point scales. Based on the
consistent null findings of our previous studies and concern for
space limitations, the self-esteem measure was not included in
Study 3.
Results and Brief Discussion
Preliminary analyses. To assess the effectiveness of the manip-
ulation, a 2 (topic: actual self vs. true self) × 2 (difficulty: easy
vs. difficult) ANOVA was performed on the self-reported ease
ratings. Results revealed a main effect of the ease or difficulty
manipulation, F(1, 139) = 23.57, p < .001, partial h2 = .14. As
expected, participants who listed 5 descriptors rated the task
as easier than participants who listed 18 descriptors (Ms = 7.05,
5.45; SDs = 1.81, 2.14, respectively; d = .81). Neither the
main effect of the type of self nor the interaction between
type of self and ease had a significant effect of ease ratings
(ps > .10). Similar 2 × 2 ANOVAs were performed on positive
and negative affect to ensure that the manipulation did not
inadvertently influence mood. No significant effects were
observed (all ps > .15).
Meaning in life as a function of topic and difficulty. A 2 (self:
true vs. actual) × 2 (ease: easy vs. difficult) analysis of covari-
ance (ANCOVA), controlling for PA and NA, was computed
to examine whether the groups differed on meaning in life.
As shown in Table 5, neither of the main effects were signifi-
cant; however, the predicted interaction between topic and
ease was significant.2 As shown in Figure 2, ease of generat-
ing self descriptors was an important predictor of meaning in
life for participants in the true self conditions but not partici-
pants in the actual self conditions. Following the recommen-
dations of Rosenthal, Rosnow, and Rubin (2000), planned
contrast analyses of the estimated marginal means were per-
formed to compare the easy and difficult conditions within
both types of self-concept. Within the true self conditions,
participants in the easy condition reported higher meaning in
life (M = 5.15) than participants in the difficult condition (M
= 4.57), F(1, 134) = 5.61, p < .05, d = .58. Conversely, within
the actual self conditions, meaning in life did not differ
between the easy (M = 4.86) and the difficult conditions (M =
5.00), F(1, 134) = 0.33, p = .56, d = .12.
The results of Study 3 provide converging experimental
evidence that perceived true self-knowledge influences mean-
ing judgments. Notably, Study 3 suggests that simply making
people question their degree of true self-knowledge (i.e., by
making true self description difficult) may be enough to
Table 5. ANCOVA Results Predicting Meaning in Life, Study 3
Source df F h2
Positive affect 1 21.51** .13
Negative affect 1 0.00 .00
Ease 1 1.67 .01
Self 1 0.15 .00
Ease × Self 1 4.34* .03
Total 134
Note: For self condition, 0 = actual self, 1 = true self.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
Easy True Hard True Easy Actual Hard Actual
Figure 2. Estimated marginal means as a function of condition,
Study 3
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Schlegel et al. 9
threaten meaning. It is notable that individuals in the true self
difficult condition reported lower meaning in life than those
in the actual self conditions, F(1, 134) = 3.04, p = .08. This
comparison suggests that perceived true self knowledge is a
relatively fragile commodity. Perhaps even individuals who
are relatively confident in their true self knowledge can be led
to question the accuracy of that knowledge at times. Indeed,
this may be especially likely given the lack of social consen-
sus from which to verify the accuracy of their true self knowl-
edge (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Goffman, 1959)
General Discussion
Across three studies, true self ease or difficulty consistently
predicted meaning in life over and above mood, self-esteem,
and actual self ease or difficulty. This provides converging
evidence for the importance of perceived true self knowledge
in the meaning-making process. Each study used a different
methodology to address this issue—this included a combina-
tion of self-reported ease (Studies 2 and 3) and more indirect
measures of ease (Study 1), correlational (Studies 1 and 2)
and experimental designs (Study 3), and between- (Studies 1
and 3) and within-subjects designs (Study 2). In addition,
Study 2 utilized a more heterogeneous sample in terms of age
than almost all of the previous work on the true self. It is nota-
ble how consistent the pattern of results was across these
different types of studies, each of which contributes to the
conclusion that the true self in general (and true self knowledge
in particular) is important to the meaning-making process.
For our purposes, the metacognitive experience of
ease or difficulty was used as a proxy for self-perceived
levels of self-knowledge. Although this unique methodologi-
cal approach may help avoid some of the problems associated
with traditional self-report measures (e.g., desirability biases),
it is important to note that the current investigation is still
subjective in nature and not concerned with whether or not a
person’s true self beliefs are actually accurate. Indeed, a
growing area of research on self-accuracy suggests that
many of our participants may have been inaccurate in their
self-assessments (Dunning, 2005; Gosling, John, Craik, &
Robins, 1998; Sedikides & Strube, 1997; Taylor, Brown, Colvin,
Block, & Funder, 2007). Although self-accuracy is certainly
important for well-being (e.g., Brunstein, Schultheiss, &
Grassmann, 1998), we believe self-accuracy and perceived self-
knowledge are orthogonal and that each can exert a unique
influence on well-being. Indeed, for our purposes, it is possi-
ble that a person with a well-defined but inaccurate true self-
concept could have fared better than an unclearly defined but
accurate true self-concept. Of course, more definitive insight
into this possibility awaits further research.
Although previous research has focused on the benefits of
thinking about one’s true self (e.g., Andersen & Williams,
1985; Schimel et al., 2001), the lack of main effects for self
type in Studies 1 and 3 suggests that thinking about one’s true
self may not always be advantageous. Indeed, when thinking
about one’s true self is difficult, it might actually lead to exis-
tential discomfort. Although the present studies lacked the
neutral ease or difficulty condition that would allow for clear
inferences on this point, it is an interesting possibility to con-
sider. Thinking about one’s true self may be more generally
beneficial for one’s self-esteem (Andersen & Williams, 1985)
or in decreasing defensiveness (Schimel et al., 2001), but it
may not always be beneficial for more existential outcomes.
Perhaps these other outcomes are more affected by the general
warmth of “me-ness” (James, 1890) that true self reflection
can create. Future research should further examine the gener-
alizability and boundaries for these types of effects. Under-
standing when true self reflection is beneficial for everybody
and when it is not would help us better understand how and
why it is that the true self is such an important part of our
shared understanding of the self (at least in this culture). It
may also be important to consider potential differences
between reflections on the true self and expressions of the true
self, particularly when those expressions are accompanied by
expectations of how others will react. In Schimel et al. (2001),
for example, participants were actually more defensive if
they expressed their intrinsic core sense of who they were but
did not receive positive feedback from others.
Directions for Future Research
Future research should also examine how reminders of the
true self are processed in daily life. The task of true self-
description may be thought of as an explicit reminder (or prime)
of the idea of a true self more generally. Considering that
explicit reminders of the true self generally abound in our
culture (e.g., in movies, books, etc.), the chance of encoun-
tering explicit true self primes in daily life may be high. It
would be interesting to see if more general primes about the
idea of the true self could produce similar effects based on
people’s preexisting levels of perceived true self-knowledge.
Even these more general explicit reminders of the true self
(i.e., reminders of the idea of a true self even independent of
one’s true self) may be beneficial to a person’s sense of mean-
ing if one has a high level of perceived true self-knowledge
and may be existentially threatening for individuals with a
low level of perceived true self-knowledge. It would also be
interesting to examine people who believe they are actively
trying to “find” their true selves: Is this a persistent existen-
tially threatening state to be in, and can the search for one’s
self be reinterpreted as an opportunity for growth?
Another important avenue for future research is examining
the role of culture in the true self and meaning relationship.
This is particularly pertinent considering the important role
cultural beliefs about the self play in the formation and ulti-
mate organization of the self (Suh, 2000). Research generally
suggests that Western cultures tend to think of the self as
something that exists within the person, whereas Eastern
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10 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin XX(X)
cultures tend to think of the self as existing entirely within
relationships and situations (e.g., Markus & Kitayama,
1991). Certainly the true self that has been discussed in the
current article seems more closely aligned with the Western
view of the self, suggesting that the idea of an intraindividual
true self may have little value outside Western cultures.
However, there is at least some evidence that the true self is
important in other cultures. For example, research has shown
that the concept of authenticity is important across cultures
(e.g., Neff & Suizzo, 2006). Certainly future research is
needed to better examine the role culture might play in these
observed relationships.
The current studies are limited in several ways. Participants
in all three studies were mostly White and female (though
Study 3 had a significant proportion of male participants).
Certainly future research should aim to obtain more hetero-
geneous samples, particularly considering the potentially
critical role of culture in these processes. In addition, it
would have been useful to include other self-concepts in
addition to the actual self for comparison purposes. Although
we believe that the actual self serves as an effective control
to the true self, testing other self-concepts (e.g., relational,
ideal, or possible selves) would help provide a stricter test
of the uniqueness of the relationship between the true self
and meaning.
The current studies provide converging evidence to the
growing literature implicating the true self’s association with
psychological health and well-being. Although we take no
stance on whether there really is such a thing as a true self, it
is clear that people value the traits and roles that most accu-
rately represent their true self concept. Furthermore, these
studies go beyond previous research to suggest the perceived
availability of one’s true self concept, and not just its implicit
accessibility, particularly contributes to one’s sense of mean-
ingfulness. The subjective feeling of true self-knowledge,
regardless of whether this self actually exists, serves an
important meaning-making function. Unfortunately, this may
also mean that uncertainty in understanding one’s true self
may lead to doubt about the purpose of one’s life.
We thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their helpful
feedback and suggestions.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect
to the authorship and/or publication of this article.
Financial Disclosure/Funding
The authors received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.
1. Further supporting the independence of the effect of perceived
self-knowledge, neither self-esteem nor positive affect interacted
with condition to predict meaning in life (ps < .56).
2. In Study 2, we reran the analysis without the inclusion of self-
esteem as a covariate. This result revealed that the effect size of
true self ease increased from .01 to .02 (R2 change). This suggests
that the shared variance between true self ease and self-esteem
(which is not accounted for in Study 3) may have inflated the effect
size of the true self ease manipulation. Although we believe this
possibility would not change the statistical significance of the
current finding, some caution is warranted in interpreting the
effect sizes reported in Study 3.
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... However, experimental research shows that it is often a consequence of experiential well-being rather than a predictor of it (King et al., 2006). Furthermore, psychological needs for autonomy and relatedness have been shown to be key predictors of meaning in life (Lambert et al., 2013;Martela et al., 2018Schlegel et al., 2011). This means that meaning in life could serve as a useful proxy of the experiences that follow the satisfaction of psychological needs. ...
Measuring subjective well-being as a key indicator of national wellness has increasingly become part of the international agenda. Current recommendations for measuring well-being at a national level propose three separate dimensions: evaluative well-being, experiential well-being, and eudaimonia. Whereas the measurement of the first two dimensions is relatively standardized, the third category has remained undertheorized, lacking consensus on how to define and operationalize it. To remedy the situation, we propose that the third dimension should focus on psychological functioning and the identification of key psychological factors humans generally need to live well. A key part of psychological functioning is the satisfaction of basic psychological needs-specific types of satisfying experiences that are essential for psychological health and well-being. Psychological needs as a category provides a parsimonious set of elements with clear inclusion criteria that are strongly anchored in theory and our current understanding of human nature-and could thus form a core part of the third, "eudaimonic" dimension of well-being. The needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness have especially received broad empirical support. Accordingly, national accounts of well-being should include measures for key psychological needs to gain an enriched and practically useful understanding of the well-being of the citizens.
... Fulfilling needs for belonging and relatedness is a crucial source for finding a sense of meaning and purpose in one's life (Lambert et al., 2013;Ryan & Deci, 2001;Ryff, 1989). These markers of well-being have been strongly linked to perceived self-knowledge (Schlegel et al., 2009(Schlegel et al., , 2011. ...
One mechanism underlying the hedonic benefits of experiential purchases is that one's core self is more centrally reflected in experiential purchases. However, little is known about whether people consume experiential purchases as a means of discovering their true self. The present research explored the possibility that people value experiential purchases as a potential tool for understanding their true self. Consistent with the hypothesis, Study 1 demonstrated that experiential purchases were perceived to be a more valuable source of gaining knowledge about one's true self compared to material purchases. Using correlational methods, Study 2 found that the motivation to search for true self-knowledge positively predicted preference for experiential purchases over material purchases. Finally, Study 3 showed a causal effect of motivation to search for true self-knowledge on a tendency to prefer experiential purchases to material purchases. Implications and future directions for well-being research and marketing are discussed. The only journey is the journey within.-Rainer Maria Rilke Many philosophers extol the virtues of understanding one's core self and using it as a guide when deciding how to live. A recent stream of psychological research has demonstrated that the perception of knowing one's true self, defined as who a person really is "deep down inside, " is linked to enhanced subjective well
... In particular, self-realization and authenticity are often seen as valuable and something that could make the life of a person more meaningful (e.g., Roessler 2012). Thus I would like to see an article examining self-realization as a potential axiological value, perhaps examining how it could be connected to psychological research on experiences of authenticity as giving rise to meaning in life (e.g., Schlegel et al. 2011). But that is a work for another time. ...
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This book is a collection of all the papers published in the special issue “Philosophy and Meaning in Life Vol.4: Selected Papers from the Pretoria Conference,” Journal of Philosophy of Life, Vol.12, No.1, 2022, pp.1-115. We held the Fourth International Conference on Philosophy and Meaning in Life online at the University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa, on January 17–19, 2022. This conference was hosted by the University of Pretoria and supported by the Waseda Institute of Life and Death Studies. We accepted about 50 presentations from around the world. Professor Cheshire Calhoun, Professor Guy Kahane, and Professor Berit Brogaard gave keynote lectures. After the conference, we called for papers for publication from the speakers, and we accepted six papers for the special issue of the Journal of Philosophy of Life. We would like to give special thanks to the anonymous referees who kindly reviewed the submitted manuscripts. The accepted papers deal with a variety of topics, such as the methodology of ethics, the meaning of affirmation, Simone de Beauvoir, and subjectivism, and they are all discussed from the perspective of the philosophy of life’s meaning. In January 2022, we were still in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic. Professor Thaddeus Metz, the chair of the conference, and supporting staff members decided to hold the conference online, and with the help of their devotion we were able to hold the three–day meeting successfully. We had many participants from around the world and we had lively discussions online. I would like to sincerely thank them for their contributions. As the editor-in-chief, I hope that readers will enjoy the stimulating papers in this volume.
We test the hypothesis that the perception of stability in one's self-concept (i.e., future self-continuity) enables the experience of meaning in life because perceiving a stable sense of self confers a sense of certainty to the self-concept. Study 1 provided initial evidence of the influence of future self-continuity on feelings of meaning in life (MIL) in a nationally representative sample. In Studies 2a and 2b, we manipulated future self-continuity by varying the expectedness of one's future self, demonstrating the causal influence of future self-continuity on self-certainty and feelings of MIL. Study 3 again manipulated future self-continuity, finding an indirect effect on feelings of meaning in life via self-certainty. Our findings thus suggest the experience of meaning in life arises from the perception of a stable sense of self. We discuss the implications for the antecedents and conceptualization of MIL as well as the nature of the self-concept.
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The rapidly ageing populations worldwide, particularly in Western countries, necessitate politicians, policymakers, and scientists to reflect on the implications of these unprecedented demographic developments. Gerontology, the multidisciplinary study of ageing and later life, aims to understand and improve the lives of older people. Scholarly efforts cover a wide range of research areas: from biomedical research aiming to increase longevity and health and find treatments for age-related diseases, policy research analysing the consequences of an ageing population for society and exploring the growing costs of healthcare and retirement, to healthcare research focusing on the improvement and quality of care for older people. Ageing, however, also is an existential part of human life, involving physical, mental, social, cultural, and spiritual change (Cole, Ray & Kastenbaum, 2010). Therefore, it is important to develop a broader view of what it means to grow older to accommodate the needs of older people receiving care. Attention to the potential of older people and to maintaining and restoring social connectedness and meaningfulness is a fundamental goal of caregiving, with significant expected gains in the overall health and wellbeing of older people (Penick & Fallshore, 2005). This report aims to contribute to a comprehensive view of ageing that acknowledges the potentials of older people, encompasses social and meaning dimensions of the ageing experience, and envisions old age as a life stage in which autonomy and wellbeing are accessible for individuals with and without care needs. It is based on an extensive literature review, complemented by qualitative interviews with a selection of older adults who participated in care projects chosen by the European SeeMe partners. In this report, we start with the dominant perspective on (successful) ageing and identify the most critical shortcomings of this perspective (Chapter 2). Then, we describe four aspects of a more comprehensive view that addresses these criticisms. We look, successively, in more detail at the potentials of older people (Chapter 3), their social needs, (Chapter 4), and their meaning needs (Chapter 5). Next, we present the empirical outcomes of the social and meaning needs expressed by the older adults in the SeeMe project (Chapter 6). We end this report with conclusions on the relationship between social needs and meaning needs and their implications for providing care to older adults (Chapter 7).
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Recent developments in neuroscience and artificial intelligence have allowed machines to decode mental processes with growing accuracy. Neuroethicists have speculated that perfecting these technologies may result in reactions ranging from an invasion of privacy to an increase in self-understanding. Yet, evaluating these predictions is difficult given that people are poor at forecasting their reactions. To address this, we developed a paradigm using elements of performance magic to emulate future neurotechnologies. We led 59 participants to believe that a (sham) neurotechnological machine could infer their preferences, detect their errors, and reveal their deep-seated attitudes. The machine gave participants randomly assigned positive or negative feedback about their brain's supposed attitudes towards charity. Around 80% of participants in both groups provided rationalisations for this feedback, which shifted their attitudes in the manipulated direction but did not influence donation behaviour. Our paradigm reveals how people may respond to prospective neurotechnologies, which may inform neuroethical frameworks.
Four experiments (N = 1,064) examined how primes enhancing the cognitive accessibility of money influence meaning in life (MIL) as a function of socioeconomic status (SES) and current financial self-efficacy. Study 1 demonstrated that financial self-efficacy mediated the association between SES and MIL following a prime of gaining money. In the control condition, SES was unrelated to financial self-efficacy, but following the prime of gaining money, SES was positively linked with financial self-efficacy, which in turn predicted enhanced meaning. Studies 2, 3a, and 3b demonstrated that primes of losing money similarly enhanced MIL as a function of SES and financial self-efficacy. Extending these results, exploratory analyses in Studies 3a and 3b suggested that money priming may influence occupational choices differently as a function of SES via MIL and financial self-efficacy. Reminders of money amplify the link between SES and financial self-efficacy, which bolsters MIL and can guide occupational preferences.
This chapter explores the essence of subjective experience, and particularly how it is influenced by existential anxiety, which is typically defined as becoming aware of the universal concerns of human existence, including the concepts of death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. According to existential thought, such awareness to our existential concerns often provokes negative emotions such as fear and dread, and is considered to be the bedrock of all everyday worries and fears in human life. Most people can deploy defense mechanisms to cope with this anxiety, but the distraction and evasion mechanisms they deploy to shift attention from the universal concerns, in order to gain a sense of safety and security, are considered an inauthentic way of being in the world that might be the cause of psychopathology. Based on existing literature, we delineate a possible conceptual roadmap to illustrate that inauthenticity and authenticity are not separate modes but rather reflect a range of possible responses to the universal concerns across a wide spectrum. Authenticity is introduced as a balanced approach to one’s existential anxiety and thus a central aspect of the intervention process.KeywordsHeideggerSituational freedomNothingnessGroundlessnessThe absurdExistential anxietyThe universal concern of DeathThe universal concern of FreedomThe universal concern of IsolationThe universal concern of MeaninglessnessAuthenticity
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The farming communities in the Christiana district with a population of close to 21 000 residents struggled with issues including poverty, unemployment, financial problems, alcoholism, occultism and Satanism and family issues such as father absence, fatherlessness and single parenting. An intervention that included training and equipping of fathers, who were farm workers from the local faith community, was necessary and crucial. Farm workers (faith communities) responded to the need for a biblical fatherhood programme. Human fatherhood should be recognised and given serious consideration because it gave an anticipation of who God the Father is. If human fatherhood did not exist, then all truth and knowledge about God the Father would be void and insignificant. Fatherhood today is an element of broken families and perhaps the most threatened element in the world. The aim of this article was to lessen the social issue of father absence through the implementation of the Biblical Fatherhood Programme. The programme has a biblical nature to solve social ills within communities. The programme was developed from a practical-theological study on fatherhood, with the primary reason to train and equip participants with fatherhood knowledge. This article presents a reflective and community engagement strategy, based on the author’s reflection of items that arose when a biblical fatherhood programme was presented to farm workers in the Christiana district of South Africa. Reflection as a methodology enabled researchers and practitioners to theorise from their own practice, improving and developing their work. Reflection was a turning back onto ‘a self’ where the researcher was the observer of the scenario. Reflection was also a significant and mental activity for researchers to use in their work with participants. The results and this article presented the reflective, rather than empirical findings of the programme implementation. The training intervention was presented in a narrative form and based on research about the essence of fatherhood. This was conceptualised from biblical truth and perspective. Participants showed immense interest in the programme and the Bible. Their theological views concerning the Bible for answers were crucial to their problems and situations. Participants’ spiritual life was pivotal to enjoy healthy relationships with God.Contribution: The programme contributed monumentally to the lives of participants. It was impossible for participants to live their lives without the Bible. The Bible is not just an authoritative source of teaching, but it speaks of human fatherhood and serves as a guideline to enunciate the care of God the Father.
Three studies examined the possibility that being liked intrinsically by others - for who one is - reduces self-esteem defense, whereas being liked for what one has achieved does not. All 3 studies contrasted the effects on self-esteem defense of liking based on intrinsic or achievement-related aspects of self. Study 1 showed that thoughts of being liked intrinsically reduced defensive bias toward downward social comparison. Study 2 demonstrated that being liked for intrinsic aspects of self reduced participants' tendency to defensively distance themselves from a negatively portrayed other. Study 3 revealed that being liked for intrinsic aspects of self encouraged a preference for upward over downward counterfactuals for a negative event. In all 3 studies, similar reductions in defensiveness were not found when liking was based on achievements. Discussion focuses on implications for understanding the functional value of different bases of self-worth.
Two studies used the self-concordance model of healthy goal striving (K. M. Sheldon & A. J. Elliot, 1999) to examine the motivational processes by which people can increase their level of well-being during a period of time and then maintain the gain or perhaps increase it even further during the next period of time. In Study I, entering freshmen with self-concordant motivation better attained their 1st-semester goals, which in turn predicted increased adjustment and greater self-concordance for the next semester's goals. Increased self-concordance in turn predicted even better goal attainment during the 2nd semester, which led to further increases in adjustment and to higher levels of ego development by the end of the year. Study 2 replicated the basic model in a 2-week study of short-term goals set in the laboratory. Limits of the model and implications for the question of how (and whether) happiness may be increased are discussed.
Investigated the hypothesis that in some contexts people may give more weight to their cognitive-affective reactions than to their behavioral reactions when making self-evaluative inferences. 69 university students who participated as Ss were administered the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventories and a self-concept inventory. In 1 of 2 contexts, Ss recalled either their positive cognitive-affective reactions, their positive behavioral reactions, or their unspecified positive reactions to several standard situations; these were reactions that had led them to feel a special appreciation for their own personal qualities. The experimental context of these recollections involved either private rehearsal, in which Ss simply thought about their past reactions, or public expression, in which they presented their reactions verbally while being tape-recorded. The impact of Ss' recollections on their subsequent self-esteem in each context was assessed. Results show that recalling positive cognitive-affective reactions had a significantly greater impact on self-esteem than did recalling positive behavioral or unspecified reactions when these recollections took place in a private, nonevaluative context, but not when they took place in the more public context in which the perspective of outside observers was likely to have been salient. Findings are discussed in terms of theories of self-inference processes and of actor–observer differences. Probable limitations of the findings are outlined. (73 ref)
Behavioral acts constitute the building blocks of interpersonal perception and the basis for inferences about personality traits. How reliably can observers code the acts individuals perform in a specific situation? How valid are retrospective self-reports of these acts? Participants interacted in a group discussion task and then reported their act frequencies, which were later coded by observers from videotapes. For each act, observer-observer agreement, self-observer agreement, and self-enhancement bias were examined. Findings show that (a) agreement varied greatly across acts; (b) much of this variation was predictable from properties of the acts (observability, base rate, desirability, Big Five domain); (c) on average, self-reports were positively distorted; and (d) this was particularly true for narcissistic individuals. Discussion focuses on implications for research on acts, traits, social perception, and the act frequency approach.