Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology



First Advisor

Stefan E. Schulenberg

Second Advisor

Laura R. Johnson

Third Advisor

Nicolaas Prins

Relational Format



The meaning construct has been researched over the last several decades, yielding important empirical advancements in our understanding of its impact on psychological well-being. Comdenominators among various definitions of meaning and life purpose are (1) an emphasis on the significance of life (2) an awareness of coherence, and (3) the fulfillment of unique purpose. Research suggests that meaning and depression are related yet distinct variables, that depression and alcohol abuse are comorbid, and that meaning and alcohol use are significantly associated. Because there is minimal research examining relations among all three variables, and because there have been inconsistent findings with regard to the impact of gender on these associations, new research is needed. The current study examined patterns of association among self-reports of perceived meaning in life, depression, and alcohol use in a sample of 268 college students (mean age of 19.1 years, 24% male, 76% White). Results of the analyses revealed that males reported significantly higher alcohol use and significantly higher problematic alcohol consumption; females and males reported similar levels of depressive symptoms; and females reported significantly higher perceived meaning. In the overall sample, perceived meaning was significantly and negatively correlated with both alcohol use (r = -.17) and depression (r = -.39); alcohol use was not significantly negatively correlated with depression (r = .09). When the sample was split by gender, the strength of association among variables differed in some cases. Models to determine relative contributions of gender, depression, and meaning to variance in alcohol use were tested. Hierarchical linear and logistic regression analyses suggested that depression did not account for a significant portion of the variance in alcohol use or problematic alcohol consumption. Adding perceived meaning to the models resulted in a marginally significant improvement, however small effect sizes suggest that such an improvement is unlikely to be clinically significant. Future research should utilize more diverse samples reporting a broader range of symptom severity and employ more rigorous experimental design. In this fashion, research may inform intervention efforts aimed at reducing problematic alcohol use for those groups in which an effect is statistically and clinically supported.


Emphasis: Clinical Psychology



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