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Meaning and self-regulatory resources of psychological well-being

Department: Positive Psychology and Life Quality Research Team
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Object of research : personal meaning units (subjective attitudes, life meaning) as mechanisms of personality self-regulation.

Goal of research: to investigate the role of personal meaning units within the system of personality self-regulation and their contribution to psychological well-being.

Empirical base of research: the project utilized the data of several series of empirical studies conducted between 2011 and 2013, including:

1) A study of implicit conceptions of life meaning in a sample of students and adults from Moscow region (N=391);

2) A study of the association of personality and social resources with personal meaning of work and subjective well-being in samples from two organizations in Kemerovo (N=235);

3) A study of association between the experience of loneliness and attitude towards solitude in three Internet samples (N=2559);

4) A study of the structure of the brief Hardiness test and its association with subjective well-being and life meaning in employees (N=4647) and students (N=1285);

5) A research of demographic correlates of life meaning in an Internet sample (N=9876).

Results of research:

A number of theoretical and empirical results were obtained:

1) We conducted a theoretical analysis of the structure, functions, and genesis of meaning units, resulting in a description of the mechanisms of personal meaning development and dynamics (formation of meaning, conscious recognition of meaning, construction of meaning). Personality development is presented as an active process of construction of one’s life (in activity) in relationship with the development of meaning units by means of understanding (in consciousness).

2) We described the principal similarities and differences between theoretical approaches to the notion of life meaning, resulting in a set of dimensions that allow us to classify these approaches (including the range of phenomena addressed, focus on consciousness vs focus on activity, meaning seen as necessity or as a possibility for development, and finally the question of meaning seen as a given or as a social construct).

3) Using the person-oriented approach and cluster analysis methodology, we found four integral implicit conceptions of life meaning, labelled activity-related (meaning is seen as a goal or life direction), reflexive (meaning is understood as an experience or a rational idea), diffuse (the notion of meaning is not understood clearly), and alienated (meaning is treated as an illusion). These implicit conceptions were associated with different self-reported experience of confronting the problem of life meaning and with different levels of life meaning and self-regulation (systemic reflectivity, self-control, self-determination) measured by traditional self-report instruments.

4) We found a new factorial structure for Noetic Orientations Test (Leontiev, 1992; based on Purpose-in-Life test by Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1967), and studied associations of the experience of meaning in life with demographic variables in a large online sample (N=9876). We found significant weak gender and age differences, as well as an association with education level. The strongest differences in experienced life meaning were associated with the type of professional occupation.

5) We created a theoretical typology of types of being alone, differentiating loneliness from solitude and alienation. We set out theoretical ideas of solitude as a resource for personality development (via mechanism of self-communication leading to insights and development of personal meaning sphere).

6) We developed a new instrument measuring loneliness and attitudes towards being alone with two versions (a full 40-item version with 8 subscales and 3 secondary scales and a brief 24-item version with 3 scales only). Using cluster analysis, we proposed an empirical typology of 4 combinations of loneliness and attitudes to loneliness. Apart from the loneliness inventory scores, the 4 clusters exhibited significant differences in subjective well-being, systemic reflection, and alienation scores. Even though attitudes towards loneliness were weak and only marginal predictors of life meaning and subjective well-being in all samples, they did predict the experience of loneliness.

7) Based on empirical data collected and presented earlier, we made a theoretical analysis of the relationship between implicit conceptions of an atheist/believer and a personal religious stance (position). The resulting hypothesis to be tested in future research stated that the process of development of a personal religious position (world-view) is associated with dynamics of the content of conscious projective images of people with the same and opposite position.

8) A theoretical review has summarized the principal theories and models of the motivational bases of health-promoting behavior. We also presented a review of health-promoting intervention models and of comparative studies of the efficacy of different types of interventions.

9) New empirical data concerning the association of the personal meaning of work with psychological well-being, work motivation, and life meaning indices were collected in two samples of Russian employees. The conceptualization of one’s work as vocation or career was found to have more positive consequences on both individual and organizational levels, in contrast to a view of work as labour.

10) A factorial structure of the brief 24-item Hardiness test (Osin, Rasskazova, 2013; based on Leontiev, Rasskazova, 2006; Maddi, Khoshaba, 2001) was empirically validated, providing instruments for reliable measurement of the three components of hardiness after S. Maddi, commitment, control, and challenge. In simultaneous multiple regression models commitment was a unique predictor of emotional well-being and seeking social support, control was a unique predictor of self-efficacy and active coping, and challenge was a unique predictor of tolerance for ambiguity and a constructive attitude (optimistic attributional style) towards failures. We developed and validated a brief 12-item version of the instrument.

Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of Results:

The results of theoretical analysis and empirical study of personal meaning undertaken within this project indicate that reflexive consciousness plays an important role in the genesis and development (dynamics) of individual behavior. The methods and instruments that were developed pave the way for more detailed experimental studies of causal links between stable personality characteristics, situational factors, and situational dynamics of meaning, on the one hand, and individual behavior and emotional well-being, on the other.

The different implicit conceptions of life meaning that were found and their associations with different self-regulatory patterns indicate the necessity of taking these individual differences into account within any fundamental studies of life meaning that use self-report approach.

The new psychometric instruments that were developed are applied successfully in both fundamental and applied research (in education and in business settings) not only by the members of the project team, but also by other Russian researchers.

Field of application:

The new psychometric instruments (Multidimensional Inventory of Loneliness Experience, brief Hardiness test, new factorial structure of the Noetic Orientations test, and the Implicit Conceptions of Life Meaning questionnaire) can be used in fundamental and applied research, as well as in psychological assessment practice in education, business, clinical psychology, and other areas.

Individual counselling can be based on some empirical methods and results of the project, including the implicit conceptions of life meaning, types of attitudes towards loneliness, and the theoretical review of the motivational models of behavior change. The latter can be used to create large-scale interventions aimed at promoting health-preserving behavior.


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