Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Stefan E. Schulenberg

Second Advisor

Scott A. Gustafson

Third Advisor

Stephanie E. Miller

Relational Format



Background: Executive functioning (EF) is a complex neurocognitive concept that grew from the field of neuropsychology and has been explored through various avenues. The most accepted theoretical organization of EF includes a three-factor model that is comprised of inhibition, updating, and shifting. The three-factor conceptualization can be measured through various objective EF neuropsychological assessments and self-reported levels of EF abilities. Goal-planning and organizing cognitive processes are another important facet of EF, as they involve self-regulation abilities. Individuals able to “regulate” themselves behaviorally and move towards goals tend to be more successful and move towards their purpose in life. A facet of positive psychology, purpose has demonstrated extensive benefits including overall general well-being. Additionally, purpose includes concepts that relate to higher-level processes that include relate to the three-factor model of EF: inhibition, updating, and shifting. Despite the commonalities listed between EF and purpose in life, examination of a possible relationship between the two concepts has yet to be undertaken. Methods: To explore the relationship between EF and purpose in life, online self-report measures were administered including the Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale, Short Form (BDEFS-SF), the Claremont Purpose Scale (CPS), the Short Self-Regulation Questionnaire (SSRQ), the Meaning in Life (MLQ), and the Valued Living Questionnaire (VLQ). Objective measures of EF utilizing the Delis-Kaplan Executive Functioning System (D-KEFS) were also obtained through in-lab participation. Results: Pearson r correlations analyses were calculated using BDEFS-SF summary scores and CPS total scores, yielding a significant negative correlation between EF deficits and total perceived purpose. This was followed up by a simple linear regression analyses to further determine the nature and extent of the relationship between the BDEFS-SF subscales on CPS total scores. Resulted indicated less deficits in Self-Management to Time significantly predicted participants’ perceived purpose in life as did less deficits in Self-Motivation. Due to COVID-19, only a small number of in-lab participant data was collected, yielding non-significant regression model of D-KEFS subtests on total CPS scores. Discussion: The present findings suggest that a relationship with EF capabilities and purpose in life, such that better EF capabilities were associated with higher levels of perceived purpose in life. Thus, further examination of the overlap between the of neuropsychological and positive psychology concepts and how both can be utilized to inform clinical interventions is warranted. Due to COVID-19 restrictions during the administration of the present study, various limitations regarding objective measure data impacted some results.



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