Purpose in life refers to having a sense of goals, values and directions in life. Individuals whose life’s purpose is to benefit others beyond self-interests are thought to have self-transcendent purpose. Self-transcendent purpose is a trait as well as trainable skill: Some people are genetically predisposed to a tendency for compassion and prosociality, but others would need to be taught through intervention strategies like lovingkindness meditation or affirmation to cultivate self-transcendent purpose. We propose a study that examines gene-brain interactions during self-transcendence training and their influences on purpose-related outcomes. We will examine whether allelic variations of oxytocin and dopaminergic receptor genes, implicated in sensitivity to social and reward information respectively, may modulate the neural activity and effects of self-transcendence training. Examining the linkage between genes, brain, and purpose in life can inform careful tailoring of intervention strategies that can maximally benefit cultivation of self-transcendent mindsets and social actions.

Yoona Kang, PhD

University of Pennsylvania

Convening Faculty, Grantee, Reviewer

Yoona Kang’s research investigates psychological and neural mechanisms that support the development and changes in social cognition, emotions, and health outcomes. Her main research interests are in 1) linking social … MORE

Emily Falk, PhD

University of Pennsylvania


Emily Falk is an Associate Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. Prof. Falk employs a variety of methods drawn from communication science, neuroscience and psychology. … MORE