Encounters With Objective Coherence and the Experience of Meaning in Life

Samantha J. Heintzelman, Jason Trent, Laura A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


The experience of meaning is often conceptualized as involving reliable pattern or coherence. However, research has not addressed whether exposure to pattern or coherence influences the phenomenological experience of meaning in life. Four studies tested the prediction that exposure to objective coherence (vs. incoherence) would lead to higher reports of meaning in life. In Studies 1 and 2 (combined N = 214), adults rated photographs of trees presented in patterns (organized around their seasonal content) or randomly. Participants in the pattern conditions reported higher meaning in life than those in the random conditions. Studies 3 and 4 (combined N = 229) yielded similar results when participants read coherent, as opposed to incoherent, linguistic triads. The manipulations did not influence explicit or implicit affect. Implications for understanding the human experience of meaning, the processes that support that experience, and its potential role in adaptation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)991-998
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • cognitive processes
  • meaning


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