Meaning Maintenance

We also explore how people strive to maintain a sense of meaning in their lives when they encounter anomalies which they are unable to make any sense of.

We propose a “meaning maintenance model” in which people continually strive to preserve a functioning meaning framework. When people encounter a threat to their meaning, be it through a self-esteem threat, feelings of uncertainty, mortality salience, or witnessing a scene that does not make sense, they need to regain a sense of meaning. Often people will reaffirm an independent meaning framework in their efforts to regain meaning. We are conducting a number of different studies in which we explore the various ways that people respond to a diverse array of threats to meaning.

For example, we have found that when people witness something that is odds with their meaning frameworks, such as interacting with an experimenter who is surreptiously switched on them midway through the study, playing cards with a deck that includes reverse-colored cards, reading an absurd Kafka story, or contemplating the unresolved inconsistencies in their own lives, they respond by affirming their commitment to other meaning frameworks that remain intact. That is, they become more patriotic, they are more willing to defend the status quo,and they desire more meaning in their lives.

Further, we find that when people are not provided with an alternative framework to affirm they will seek out new frameworks instead, and will abstract patterns from noise.