Study: People with Purpose Make Healthier Choices
A new study shows that people with stronger life purpose are more likely to accept messages promoting healthy behavior changes than those with a weaker sense of purpose.
“Purpose in life has been robustly associated with health in previous studies,” says postdoctoral fellow Yoona Kang, lead author of the study.
She added: “But the mechanism through which life purpose may promote healthy living has been unclear.”
Recovering Man Founder Richard Joy recently spoke of the need for a core purpose when combating various behavioural and mental health related issues in a recent video (see below).
For the study, Kang and her co-authors chose to test out a theory: that making health decisions might take less effort for those with higher sense of purpose in life.
According to Kang, health decisions, even those as simple and mundane as choosing between the elevator and the stairs, involve some amount of decisional conflict.
But what if some people experience less conflict than others when considering these options, perhaps because they have a stronger guiding purpose that helps resolve the conflicts?
To test this idea, the researchers recruited sedentary people who needed to exercise more.
Those participants who reported a stronger sense of life purpose were more likely to agree with the health messages and to have less activity in brain regions associated with conflict-processing.
In fact, the researchers were able to predict how likely it was that a person would agree with health messages based on the degree of brain activity in these regions.
“We conduct studies both to understand how different kinds of health messaging can help transform people’s behaviors and why some people might be more susceptible than others,” says Emily Falk, director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab.
“This study does a nice job starting to unpack reasons why people who have a higher sense of purpose in life might be more able to take advantage of this messaging when they encounter it.”
Building on this study, Kang’s next research project will examine the interactions between genes, brain activity, and life purpose.