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: Understanding how individuals develop a direction for life, and the influence of sense of purpose on positive lifespan development are central goals for the lab across all projects. In order to achieve these broad aims, the lab is currently testing the utility of different measures for capturing trait- and state-level variability in sense of purpose over time. Valid measurement at the between- and within-person is essential for capturing whether and how people fluctuate in their sense of purpose over time. In addition, the lab is investigating different types of purpose content, and how best to assess them; for instance, we are currently investigating why individuals pursue activism and political action to fulfill their purpose in life.
Aging: All members of the PATH Lab are focused on adopting lifespan developmental perspectives on the 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: Part of understanding lifespan developmental trajectories is considering how individuals adapt to major transitory periods, both self- and societally-imposed. 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, and current projects on this front have taken multiple directions. For instance, the lab is particularly interested in understanding and reducing health disparities, an aim represented in current projects focused on uncovering the mechanisms linking experiences of everyday discrimination and commitment to marginalized identifications to purpose development. 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.