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Meaninglessness: phenomenological perspectives

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Title:Meaninglessness: phenomenological perspectives
Authors:Jordan, Noel V.
Contributors:Marsella, Anthony J (advisor)
Psychology (department)
Date Issued:Aug 2003
Publisher:University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract:Ultimate concerns are those timeless issues of death, free will, meaning and its absence, and others that have from the beginning formed the psychophilosophical framework of all human civilizations. Through the evolution of philosophy, religious thought, science, technology, and psychology, conceptualization of ultimate concerns has varied across history and culture. In the West this has reached a sophisticated, articulate, and scientifically useful form in existential-phenomenological psychology and research, through which some of these ultimate concerns are beginning to be illuminated. The present work addressed one such concern: meaninglessness. Positive meaning in life has produced a substantial literature (including recent empirical studies) revolving around sources of personal meaning, but little work has directly addressed meaninglessness. Goals of the present study were to examine (1) variations in the experience of meaninglessness, (2) the phenomenology of the experience of meaninglessness, and (3) dimensions and structural components of meaninglessness. In addition, goal (4) was to assess the validity of the construct of meaninglessness in light of the findings. A sample of university students consisting of 204 females and 68 males, aged 18 to 57, from different ethnicities, completed a short questionnaire packet. Besides demographics items, this included brief screening exercises for depression and trauma, a word-association exercise, a shortened Avoidance of Existential Confrontation scale, and a small number of open-ended questions regarding experiences of meaninglessness. From this group of participants, ten females and one male were interviewed in depth. Narrative accounts were evaluated using iterative, empirical methods. Phenomenology, dimensions, and structural components were revealed for the generic meaninglessness experience. This appears to begin as a complex dialectic of external experience juxtaposed against internal representation,along the lines of one's relationships to several possible components of one's world. The untenable nature of this dialectical tension results in a disintegration or collapse of the worldview with repercussions on cognitive, affective, behavioral, and existential dimensions. Variations within this model were examined qualitatively with respect to situations, cognitive styles, affect, and gender where possible. Recognizable cognitive aspects of meaninglessness appeared to be the disintegration of the existing inner representation, a sense of disorientation, and a simultaneous tendency to generalize. The affective dimension was most prominently characterized by sadness and anger; and behavioral responses involved approach/avoidance to specific people or experiences, and/or changes in motivation or more general behavioral styles. Existential insights, as potentially permanent changes in viewpoint, most prominently involved, death awareness, uncertainty of life, and changes in self-concept. Depression appears to be a possibly significant coexisting complex of similar dimensions whose relationship remains unclear. Gender differentials were tentatively visible in situational types and cognitive styles as reflected in word associations. The use of the meaninglessness construct appears to have been validated in that these results broadly support principles which had previously been proposed regarding sources of positive meaning. The implications of this and other conclusions are discussed in terms of the dimensions and structural components that were uncovered.
Description:xiv, 406 leaves
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Psychology

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