Flourishing in the Wake of a Disaster: Investigating the Effects of Disaster-Related Stimuli on Meaning, Well-Being, and Religion

Student Author(s)

Alexa Rencis
Rachel Hibbard

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

Document Type


Event Date



Disasters can present a context for investigating how disruptive life events affect individuals’ meaning in life and religion and spirituality. Disasters are understudied, and it is unclear how they affect meaning in life. The purpose of the current study is to establish that disasters are a threat to meaning and to determine how disaster primes affect meaning in life, religion, and spiritual well-being. The 100 participants in this study were introductory psychology students at a small Midwestern liberal arts college. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) reading and providing a written summary of a disaster situation while imagining themselves in the situation (disaster prime condition), (2) reading and providing a written summary of an essay about the meaninglessness of life (meaning threat condition), and (3) reading and providing a written summary of an essay about computers (control condition). After reading the prime and writing the summary, participants completed surveys regarding their experienced emotion, meaning in life, religious variables, personality differences, virtuous behavior, and well-being. We predicted that the disaster prime will operate like the meaning threat prime and differ from the control condition across all of the dependent variables. Results revealed that individuals in the disaster prime scenario reaffirmed their meaning in life. This suggests that disasters are a threat to meaning and can elicit responses to regain a sense of meaning. Implications of this include discovering how people overcome challenges, such as disasters, in order to grow and to flourish.


This work was supported by a grant from The John Templeton Foundation.

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