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Role of Meaning in the Prediction of Depressive Symptoms Among Trauma-Exposed and Nontrauma-Exposed Emerging Adults


  • We would like to thank the MUSIC collaboration for inviting us to participate in this cross-site study. This article is dedicated to the loving memory of Madeleine Rose Woo.



This study investigated the role of searching for meaning, finding meaning, trauma exposure, and their interaction in the prediction of depressive symptoms among trauma-exposed and nontrauma-exposed emerging adults.


Eight thousand seven hundred and eighty-four college students (73% female; mean age of 19.8 years) completed self-report measures. Hierarchical regression analysis was conducted to evaluate the three-way interaction in the prediction of depressive symptoms.


Searching for and finding meaning as well as the three-way interaction significantly contributed to the prediction of depression. Specifically, searching for meaning was associated with increased symptoms, irrespective of meaning levels among nontrauma-exposed and low frequency trauma-exposed emerging adults. Among high frequency trauma-exposed individuals, an increase in the search-by-find meaning interaction predicted fewer symptoms.


The findings suggest that searching for and finding meaning are important mechanisms in the prediction of depression among emerging adults facing daily stressors and traumatic events. Clinical implications are discussed.