Public Relations Blog

Learning 4 Purpose International Study


Learning 4 Purpose“Purpose is a way for individuals to link their present and their future.  First, purpose helps them envision their future in a particular way—how their contributions matter in the bigger picture of society.  Second, purpose keeps that future vision in mind when individuals make decisions in their daily lives.”                                         —Dr. Seana Moran, Clark University


Researchers Find Having a Sense of Purpose toward a Prosocial Aim
Is a Beacon for Today’s Youth to Influence Others Positively

January 30, 2017, Worcester, Massachusetts …Results of a three-year study on how young people develop a life purpose will be released by Dr. Seana Moran, Research Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology at Clark University, who led a multinational team of collaborators at nine universities in six countries: China, South Korea, Brazil, Finland, Spain, and the United States. The research was funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation[1], and the goal was to explore how life purpose is defined by youth and supported through education and community engagement.

The U.S. sample came from a large public university, a small private liberal arts university, and a technical university.  In addition to finding out how other countries and cultures think about life purpose, Dr. Moran’s collaboration found positive links between students having a sense of purpose and feeling good about serving the community, and between helping others and strengthening one’s sense of purpose. Students with life purposes specifically aimed to benefit others indicated stronger intentions and engagement in helping behaviors. Engaging their purposes was associated with stronger self-efficacy to make positive effects on others, which tended to manifest a stronger sense that they were important to the people in their lives.

Other considerations from the study include:

  • In most of the countries, having a strong sense of purpose is associated with a low searching for a purpose, and having a purpose tended to more strongly influence motivation to help others. But in South Korea, students tended to have both a strong sense of having a purpose and searching for a purpose, and searching for purpose tended to have a stronger influence on helping others.
  • Purpose isn’t something a young person “gets” or “obtains.” It is something they practice, and it is a long-term pursuit.
  • Youth without clear purpose can be more easily swayed by external forces–like flash mobs, propaganda, or empty promises—because they don’t have an internal “compass” to direct their attention and actions toward meaningful pursuits.
  • Students coming into a service-learning experience may already have life purposes in motion, and professors have the opportunity to incorporate that energy into student enjoyment for learning and making contributions to society.

For more information or to speak with Dr. Seana Moran, contact: Claire McKinney at or 908-955-7563.

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[1] This study was made possible in part through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to Clark University. The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funder.