Fear of the unknown as a mechanism of the inverse relation between life meaning and psychological distress

Brian D. Ostafin*, Inka Papenfuss, John Vervaeke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Background and Objectives: Although there is accumulating evidence for an inverse relation between life meaning and psychological distress, little is known about the mechanisms of this relation. Using cross-sectional, observational methods, this research examined fear of uncertainty as one potential mechanism. Design and Methods: Study 1 (N = 141) was completed with a convenience sample, a unidimensional measure of life meaning, and general measures of anxiety and depression. Study 2 (N = 152) was completed with a sample prescreened for anxiety, a multidimensional measure of life meaning, and clinical measures of anxiety and depression. Results: The results from both studies generally showed an inverse relation between life meaning and psychological distress. Study 2 further indicated that these relations were stronger for the meaning subscale of perceiving life as coherent/comprehensible than the subscales assessing whether participants’ lives are perceived as purposeful or significant. Mediation analyses in both studies showed indirect effects of life meaning on psychological distress through fear of uncertainty. Conclusions: These findings support and extend previous research by showing that (i) meaning-as-comprehension may be particularly important in regards to psychological distress, and (ii) fear of uncertainty may mediate the inverse relation between meaning and measures of anxiety and depression.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30-Oct-2021

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • depression
  • existential
  • Intolerance of Uncertainty
  • meaning in life
  • preregistration

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