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Open Access Publications from the University of California

No Pain, No Gain: Perceptions of Adversity, Life Meaning, and Social Class

  • Author(s): Grisham, Emma
  • Advisor(s): Piff, Paul K
  • et al.

People derive meaning from adverse experiences, ranging from distinct traumas (e.g., surviving a terrorist attack) to chronic hardships (e.g., financial insecurity). Building on prior work examining how disadvantaged groups process negative past experiences, we investigated whether the ways in which people make sense of, and draw meaning from, these perceived adversities in life depends on their social class backgrounds. In two correlational studies, we found inconsistent evidence for a relationship between perceived adversity and meaning in life as well as for the moderating role of social class. Using a sample of UCI students (N = 219), Study 1 found that perceived adversity was more strongly associated with meaning in life for lower- than higher-class individuals. Study 2 attempted to replicate this pattern of results using a sample from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk; N = 256), but did not find the same effects of perceived adversity and social class or their interaction. Possible explanations for these discrepant findings are explored, with recommendations for future research examining perceptions of adversity in relation to life meaning.

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