Surviving and Thriving: Fundamental Social Motives Provide Purpose in Life

Matthew J. Scott, Adam B. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Purpose in life (PIL) is often associated with grand achievements and existential beliefs, but recent theory suggests that it might ultimately track gainful pursuit of basic evolved goals. Five studies (N = 1,993) investigated the relationships between fundamental social motives and PIL. In Study 1, attribution of a life goal pursuit to disease avoidance, affiliation, or kin care motives correlated with higher PIL. Studies 2 and 3 found correlations of self-protection, disease avoidance, affiliation, mate retention, and kin care motives with PIL after controlling for potential confounds. Study 4 showed that writing about success in the status, mating, and kin care domains increased PIL. Study 5 replicated the effect for mating and kin care, but not for status. Results imply that fundamental motives link to PIL through a sense of progress, rather than raw desire. Overall, this set of studies suggests that pursuit of evolved fundamental goals contributes to a purposeful life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)944-960
Number of pages17
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • evolution
  • meaning
  • motivation
  • purpose
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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