The PATH Lab investigates a variety of topics related to Purpose, Aging, Transitions, and Health from a multidisciplinary perspective. Here are a few current projects linked to each of those four broad directives:

Purpose: The lab conducts multiple projects focused on understanding how individuals develop a direction for life, and the influence of sense of purpose on positive lifespan development. In order to achieve these broad aims, the lab is currently working on how best to assess purpose, with respect to different stages of the lifespan as well as different areas of life direction. Our primary line of current research is focused on how individuals develop an activist purpose, known as a life direction focused on being active in movements to promote social change. We are conducting multiple studies on this front to understand whether and when this form of purpose differs from other times of life aims one may develop.

Aging: Members of the PATH Lab frequently adopt lifespan developmental perspectives when carrying out their projects of interest, with the recognition that the aging process occurs across life and early experiences influence later outcomes. Toward this end, current projects are focused on understanding the role of negative and positive life events on the development of a purpose in life.  For instance, ongoing and recent work has examined the role of lifetime experiences of discrimination or early life adversity on later sense of purpose, often finding that individuals in our studies exhibit impressive potential for resilience insofar that these experiences do not doom their ability to find a life direction. A central goal of multiple ongoing projects is to understand how experiences of marginalization, both personal and familial, impacts the routes individuals take to pursuing their purpose across the lifespan.

Transitions: Most of the lab’s current work on this front consider the transitions to retirement; for instance, a recent senior thesis project from the lab demonstrated the importance of phased or partial retirement policies for helping older adults maintain a purpose after they leave the workplace. In addition, the lab is particularly interested in how to help individuals deal with transitions into non-normative forms of cognitive decline. One of our current projects evaluates the ways in which this transition may affect the sense of purpose of the individuals experiencing decline, and the caretakers who look after them. Through a longitudinal design involving both the patients and their caretakers, we are evaluating the ways in which an impactful event such as a cognitive decline diagnosis can alter one’s sense of purpose and how their purpose narrative may change.

Health: All of these projects ultimately inform our understanding of individuals’ health and wellbeing across the lifespan. Linking personality traits and individual differences to health outcomes is a central goal of the lab. For instance, the lab is particularly interested in understanding and reducing health disparities. Another prominent area of current work is focused on understanding the role for sense of purpose on how individuals regulate and interpret daily stressors and life events. Finally, we are currently interested in how individual differences have shaped our response to the ongoing pandemic crisis, and whether past findings on personality-health associations generalize in the current context.