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Adolescents' Emic Understanding of Purpose

Publication Authors: 
Seana Moran

Division 32: Humanistic Psychology How do young people define "purpose" in their own words, and how do these self-generated definitions differ across grade levels? Youth defined purpose most often as a reason, followed by a meaning, then by either a goal or an externally driven obligation, then by not knowing. Sixth graders focused more on the "what" of the purpose"the concrete content or end result or meaning of what's going to happen. Ninth graders focused more on the "why" and the "who" of purpose reasons and justifications for one's own actions and how those actions and reasons demonstrated "who I am." Twelfth graders focused more on the "what next?" of purpose. They were more future oriented, with goals and intentions rising in importance, followed by reasons.