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Meaning in Life in Emerging Adulthood: A Person-Oriented Approach


  • The research reported in this article was conducted as part of the Multi-Site University Study of Identity and Culture (MUSIC). All collaborators are gratefully acknowledged.
  • The first author is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO).


The present study investigated naturally occurring profiles based on two dimensions of meaning in life: Presence of Meaning and Search for Meaning. Cluster analysis was used to examine meaning-in-life profiles, and subsequent analyses identified different patterns in psychosocial functioning for each profile. A sample of 8,492 American emerging adults (72.5% women) from 30 colleges and universities completed measures on meaning in life, and positive and negative psychosocial functioning. Results provided support for five meaningful yet distinguishable profiles. A strong generalizability of the cluster solution was found across age, and partial generalizability was found across gender and ethnicity. Furthermore, the five profiles showed specific patterns in relation to positive and negative psychosocial functioning. Specifically, respondents with profiles high on Presence of Meaning showed the most adaptive psychosocial functioning, whereas respondents with profiles where meaning was largely absent showed maladaptive psychosocial functioning. The present study provided additional evidence for prior research concerning the complex relationship between Presence of Meaning and Search for Meaning, and their relation with psychosocial functioning. Our results offer a partial clarification of the nature of the Search for Meaning process by distinguishing between adaptive and maladaptive searching for meaning in life.