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Uncertainty, Identity and Emotional Complexity in Youth Purpose

Publication Authors: 
Matthew C. Andrews

How do life goals and sense of purpose in life differ across adolescence? This paper presents initial analyses from cross-sectional data comparing what early and late adolescents talk about their purpose in life. Although late teens tend to reveal much more elaborate belief systems supporting life’s purposes, the intellectual clarity of early teens’ life goals are strikingly similar to their elders. The prominent developmental differences emerging from cross-case comparisons are that twenty-year-olds are more likely to report a feeling of purpose that is internalized with their identity. The targets (e.g. a helping others, serving God, having a good career) of young adolescent goals resemble that of older participants, but the latter were more likely to incorporate self-evaluative emotions into their accounts of their purpose in life.