The Distance Between Selves: The Influence of Self-Discrepancy on Purpose in Life

  • Stanley M
  • Burrow A
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Abstract

The present investigation (total N = 643) sought to examine for the first time self-discrepancy theory in relation to purpose in life. Negative associations were found between purpose and discrepancies in perceptions of one's actual and ideal personality (Study 1) and body image (Study 2). Study 3 further demonstrated experimentally that individuals describing differences between their actual and ideal physique reported less purpose than those describing similarities. Finally, Study 4 sought to compare the effects of actual/ideal and actual/ought self-discrepancies on purpose in life. Participants who wrote about differences between their actual/ideal or actual/ought selves subsequently reported less purpose than those who wrote about similarities between these domains. However, neither a main effect nor an interaction emerged between actual/ideal versus actual/ought conditions, thereby suggesting that greater discrepancy denigrated purpose independent of self-domain. Importantly, agency emerged as a mechanism explaining the association between both actual/ideal and actual/ought discrepancies and purpose.
The present investigation (total N = 643) sought to examine for the first time self-discrepancy theory in relation to purpose in life. Negative associations were found between purpose and discrepancies in perceptions of one's actual and ideal personality (Study 1) and body image (Study 2). Study 3 further demonstrated experimentally that individuals describing differences between their actual and ideal physique reported less purpose than those describing similarities. Finally, Study 4 sought to compare the effects of actual/ideal and actual/ought self-discrepancies on purpose in life. Participants who wrote about differences between their actual/ideal or actual/ought selves subsequently reported less purpose than those who wrote about similarities between these domains. However, neither a main effect nor an interaction emerged between actual/ideal versus actual/ought conditions, thereby suggesting that greater discrepancy denigrated purpose independent of self-domain. Importantly, agency emerged as a mechanism explaining the association between both actual/ideal and actual/ought discrepancies and purpose.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Actual self
  • Ideal self
  • Ought self
  • Purpose in life
  • Self-discrepancy

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Authors

  • Maclen Stanley

  • Anthony L. Burrow

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