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The Review of Article Role Identity Salience, Purpose and Meaning in Life, and Well-Being among Volunteers

The Review of Article Role Identity Salience, Purpose and Meaning in Life, and Well-Being among Volunteers

This essay reviews an article by Peggy Thoits, “Role Identity Salience, Purpose and Meaning in Life, and Well-Being among Volunteers” that was published in Social Psychology Quarterly, volume 45 and issue 4 (pages 360-387) in 2012. In the article, Thoits looks at the variation within volunteers who view their role as important to them (defined as role salience). The author addresses the research problem of the part’s influence on the sense of well-being and purpose in life. The essay analyzes the study’s theoretical foundation, research design, and evaluation of research data and findings. Additional explanations are proposed. They derive from other perspectives in social psychology.

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Theoretical Foundation

The author adapts previous research findings on role identity, particularly on individuals’ social parts as the sources of wellbeing. Then she formulates a theory that individuals who subjectively view their position as important will experience enhanced wellbeing (Thoits 361). The theory comprises several hypotheses. People will invest time, resources, and efforts in their role to view it as important. Moreover, the part is associated with the certain validation by other persons; and that it will have extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. The main concept of this theory is the role salience, which the researcher conceptualizes as a subjective value and importance given to it.

To test the theory, Thoits applies the perspective of symbolic interactionism. It focuses on the meanings that individuals form by selective interpretations (Fulcher and Scott 49). The approach is titled symbolic because it rests on symbols such as titles and labels of things. It views some feelings and emotions as resulting from perceptions of individuals (Fulcher and Scott 50). Blumer describes the symbolic interactionism perspective as useful for discovering the nature of social self (49). This approach has four premises: people act on the basis of personal interpretation and calculations; they share meanings in a process of interaction; observation and participation in this process is necessary to form a meaning; and interactions themselves are an ongoing process (Blumer 50).

The symbolic interactionism perspective can be noticed in the aforementioned. The researcher approaches the view of self as based on a salient volunteering role. The volunteers are seen as interpreting their selves and responding to symbolic meanings and characterizations attached to their part by other people, i.e. heart patients. Individuals characterize some roles as important and give a behavioral guidance to others (Thoits 362). The volunteer position is subjectively assessed as important. Volunteering persons form some meanings about self and their part in the process of interaction with patients. In applying Blumer’s theorizing on symbolic interactionism, it becomes clear that, in Thoit’s research, volunteering persons develop salient roles on the basis of a subjective sense of significance. They give more importance to the part in perceiving that the behaviors matter to heart patients. Volunteers that have been studied in the process of interaction with heart patients showed a symbolic meaning to their position.

Research Design

The article’s theory is that a greater salience of the volunteer part will lead to the emotional wellbeing. The volunteer role is an independent variable. Wellbeing is a dependent one. Purpose and meaning in life is an intervening variable that mediates between wellbeing and the role’s salience. The author designs the research as consisting of testing a set of hypotheses. They are meant to look at the variance in data and test the theory that wellbeing occurs when there is a more salient role. It is operationalized as a measure of subjective importance attached to the role and enacted with the number of hours of volunteering. The hypotheses also test if the personal meaning and purpose are derived from the part, as the sense of meaning and purpose is presumed to mediate wellbeing. The author utilizes the method of survey to collect data, consisting of structured questionnaires and interviews by phone. The sample of 877 volunteers has been selected (Thoits 366), from active chapters of Mended Hearts, the organization supporting heart patients. Further, the data analysis has interpreted descriptive statistics and looked at the variance in the independent variable. Research findings are as follows: 1) volunteers have to be actively involved to perceive their role as important; 2) the more essential the volunteer’s part is to individuals, the more they believe that they matter to others; 3) their beliefs about the meaning and purpose having an effect on wellbeing; 4) and the more volunteers believe that they matter, the stronger the role salience is.

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Evaluation of Data Analysis and Research Findings

The data that have been gathered during surveys are representative of Mended Hearts volunteers’ population. They have been found to spend a lot of time volunteering and experienced the emotional wellbeing. The data are reliable as it represents 70 chapters of Mended Hearts, both men and women, with most volunteers being elderly women (Thoits 366). The salience of role is well conceptualized and measured. The author utilizes scales and subscales to assess the gathered data. The information is not sufficient to answer the research questions. Analyzing the additional data, such as those on other roles by volunteers, would eliminate alternative parts’ impact on wellbeing. Such information on multiple roles would also be in line with the previous research on the multiple places in wellbeing. Since there is a variance within the independent variable, the volunteer part is maintained to differ for individuals’ wellbeing. The further research could elucidate the salience of other roles, such as a family and work roles, in creating a differing sense of purpose and thus wellbeing. Moreover, the research findings need to be replicated. There is a question whether there is the sense of purpose and meaning unique to Mended Hearts volunteers or it applies to other settings. The data are valid as the researcher considers various characteristics of population under study and controls groups’ measures that could explain variability.

The research findings are useful for understanding self and society. They allow us to decipher some ways in which we attach importance to social roles, experience them, and improve wellbeing. The article sheds some light on the activity that can help people develop positive effects and thus feel wellness. Research findings indicate that enacting at least one role that matters to self leads to improving emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction. It has contributed to the understanding of social psychology as useful for improving the human conditions by researching and suggesting ways to improve lives.

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Social Psychological Perspectives

Other social psychological perspectives provide the additional information for addressing the research question. The social learning perspective maintains that individuals behave in certain ways. The reason is that they learn to do so from observing others in the context of social learning (Ashford and LeCroy 101). This perspective, viewing individuals’ emotions and meanings as deriving from social structures in place (DeLamateur 316), would stipulate as follows. The volunteers have acquired their values, beliefs, and associated meanings of purpose from an immediate social context. As the competence of role is learnt and not self-interpreted as meaningful, the part can be salient by the definition imposed by society. Similarly, the cultural perspective places an emphasis on social context and socialization. It indicates the socio-cultural phenomena as the sources of emotions and actions (Ashford and LeCroy 115). Ashford and LeCroy name it as the ecological systems theory (133) as it utilizes a system approach. The social factors influence the cognitive ones (DeLamateur 316); thus individuals are bound by culture and society in how they interpret social situations. As the Mended Hearts culture and the society place an important role in volunteering in the community, a person who donates much time to this will accept the cultural meaning and place one’s self in the ranks of well-to-do volunteers. The evolutionary perspective says that individuals pass inherited traits to future generations. Their choices to behave ensure their survival (Ashford and LeCroy 53). The application of the evolutionary perspective to the article’s research question could lead to theorizing the following fact. The individual’s disposition changes with the evolutions in the environment. This perspective, viewing the universal biological aspects of species as determinant for behaviors, could add some insight that not many people have volunteer roles in other communities or countries, but experience a better emotional wellbeing. According to the social cognitive perspective, individuals experience a need to control their social environment. Behaviors of persons are typical of group behaviors (Ashford and LeCroy 119). The social cognitive perspective considers several levels to influence social and cognitive events. On the micro level, people perceive and act in response to other actors. Meanwhile on the macro level, events take place in the socially meaningful and interactive contexts (DeLamateur 269). The perspective underlines that internal and external contexts are also important. However, for studying behavior, the role of meaning is paramount and cannot be bypassed (Blumer 3).

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The application of the social cognitive perspective to this research study would bring the research to the level of accumulated subjective and social context-inspired meanings. It may result in reformulating the hypotheses. The theory would propose that both perceived meanings and interpersonal relationships with heart patients affect emotional wellbeing. The study will benefit from adding a new control group of social environment domains in addition to self-subjected domains (Levy and Sabbagh 474) into research design. Future research studies on wellbeing could look into how interpersonal relationships with patients affect the sense of meaning and purpose as well as wellbeing.

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