399 Purpose & Health


Research by Kang, Yoona, Strecher, V. J., Kim, E., & Falk, E. B. (2019).

Written by Shannon Cantalupo, B.S. 

If we have core values and a sense of purpose in life, we’ll likely make healthier choices over the person who has conflicts between competing unhealthy but alluring choices, like not making effort to get a recommended cholesterol test. 

Psychologists wanted to examine which part of the human brain is associated with health and life purpose. They studied an individual’s thinking about their purpose in life and MRI activity in various neural pathways when exposed to health-related messages. Researchers focused on pathways associated with conflict-related choosing.

They assessed neural activities of 220 individuals, who underwent an MRI while viewing health-related messages. Participants completed a purpose in life self-report scale and rated the degree to which they agreed with a health message and their confidence in achieving it.

Results? Those with higher purpose showed less activity in the neural pathways associated with conflict processing while making healthy decisions. The reduced activity predicted the relationship between a sense of purpose and a stronger endorsement of healthy messages.

If you’re struggling with health decisions, focus on your goals! Those who have a stronger purpose in life, working towards goals aligned with values, show more endorsement of a healthy lifestyle!


Kang, Y., Strecher, V. J., Kim, E., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Purpose in life and conflict-related neural responses during health decision-making. Health Psychology, 38(6), 545-552.


About Author

Adele Hall is the administrative assistant for the School of Psychology in charge of uploading the Psychology Science minutes. The authors of the minutes are listed in the written portion. The Psychology Science Minutes are coordinated by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D., faculty emerita, and reviewed by former Dean Mary Beth Kenkel, faculty emerita.

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