College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-23-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Christine Reyna, PhD

Second Advisor

Kimberley Quinn, PhD

Third Advisor

Verena Graupmann, PhD


Previous separate models of meaning in life have suggested that meaning is composed of several components operating across levels of construal. For example, sometimes people might look to a component of meaning in a state of concrete construal to gain a sense of consistency or predictability, and at other times they may look to a component of meaning to create feelings of higher purpose in life. These models of meaning have the potential to shed light not only on the various facets of life that make people feel life is meaningful, but to discover the ways in which these components create feelings of meaning in terms of both predictability as well as purpose. These models also have great potential for understanding the ways in which people compensate for threats to meaning at different levels of construal. The goal of the present investigation was to test the idea that people experience meaning at both concrete and abstract levels of construal, and to assess which types of standards create meaning in live most effectively. Specifically, I tested the hypothesis that morality may be especially effective at creating feelings of both predictability and purpose more effectively than convention. In addition, the present research examined whether or not morality is especially effective at compensating for threats to feelings of predictability and higher purpose compared to convention for these same reasons. These ideas were tested in three studies. In Study 1, participants rated the extent to which two types of standards, conventional standards and moral standards, provide a sense of predictability (i.e. “coherence”) and a sense of 2 purpose (i.e. “transcendence”). In Study 2, participants completed a construal level manipulation designed to induce states of concrete or abstract construal and then rated the extent to which conventional and moral standards provide consistency and purpose. In a third study, participants completed a faux personality inventory and received false feedback suggesting they would live a life characterized by either low or average levels of either predictability (coherence) or purpose (transcendence). The results of Study 1 demonstrated that participants found more coherence and transcendence in their moral standards compared to their conventional standards. In addition, moral standards provided much more transcendence than conventional standards, whereas morality created slightly more coherence than conventional standards. The results of Study 2 showed no effects, and the results of Study 3 demonstrated that participants found their moral standards to be much more important to them than their conventional standards. The overall results of all three studies suggest that people see their moral standards as providing more meaning in life, especially in the form of transcendence, than their conventional standards. The results also suggest that moral standards are generally more important to people than conventional standards. Overall, these results suggest that people may be able to experience a broader sense of purpose in life by focusing on moral standards.

SLP Collection


Included in

Psychology Commons