A recent study published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences highlights 15 distinct life domains that are crucial for capturing the multidimensional nature of psychological well-being. These domains represent various aspects of daily life that contribute to individuals’ overall sense of functioning and satisfaction, providing a more comprehensive framework for understanding well-being beyond traditional models.
The new research challenges the conventional boundaries of well-being research and encourages the consideration of a wider array of factors that influence individuals’ subjective evaluations of their lives.
Traditionally, psychological models of well-being and quality of life have emphasized factors like life satisfaction, positive emotions, and fulfillment of psychological needs. But these models might not fully account for the nuances of how people evaluate their daily functioning in different domains. The researcher behind the new study aimed to use a model of human functioning, grounded in evolutionary theory, to identify areas of life that are most important to people.
“Current research on quality of life often focuses on broad life domains such as physical health and personal relationships, neglecting specific domains that are crucial to many individuals, such as sex and status,” explained study author Mohsen Joshanloo, an associate professor at Keimyung University and honorary principal fellow at the Centre for Wellbeing Science.
“For example, many people devote considerable time and effort to satisfying their sexual desires or improving their physical appearance. This shows the importance of these areas in people’s lives and the need to consider them in quality-of-life research. In this study, I set out to shed light on these overlooked domains of life. Using an evolutionary lens, I identified specific domains that are inherently important to humans because they are linked to reproductive success and survival. The ultimate goal of the study was to use evolutionary theory to expand and enrich our understanding of well-being and quality of life.””
Joshanloo developed a new measure of perceived functioning, which was based on a categorization of basic human motives provided by Aunger and Curtis (2013). This model identified 15 basic human motives, each corresponding to specific activities that constitute important domains of life. These motives include hunger, lust, comfort, hygiene/purity, safety, attractiveness, love/pair-bonding, nurture, resource accumulation/hoarding, mastery/creating, affiliation, status, justice, curiosity, and play.
For his new measure, Joshanloo asked participants to rate their functioning in each of these domains on a numerical scale. The response options range from 0 to 10, where 0 represents “poor functioning” and 10 represents “excellent functioning.”
In his first study, Joshanloo wanted to explore how the items in the new perceived functioning scale were related to each other. This is known as the factor structure, which helps identify underlying patterns or dimensions within the data. He was also interested in how perceived functioning was related to both hedonic well-being (related to positive emotions and life satisfaction) and eudaimonic well-being (related to psychological growth and self-actualization).
The sample for Study 1 consisted of 660 Canadian participants recruited through an online data collection company. The participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 85, with an average age of 51.
In his second study, Joshanloo aimed to replicate the findings from Study 1 using an international sample. The sample included 843 participants recruited from 27 different countries, with ages ranging from 18 to 65 and an average age of 23. Approximately 49% of the participants were female.
The results from both studies consistently showed that the newly developed perceived functioning scale exhibited a single-factor structure, indicating that the scale effectively measures a unified construct. Additionally, the scale demonstrated high reliability, suggesting that its items consistently capture individuals’ perceptions of functioning across various life domains.
Importantly, Joshanloo also found that high perceived functioning was positively associated with various dimensions of well-being. Individuals who reported higher levels of functioning across various domains of life also tended to report higher levels of overall life satisfaction. They also reported reduced levels of personality dysfunction.
Additionally, perceived functioning was positively correlated with positive affect. This means that individuals who perceived themselves as functioning well across different domains of life also tended to experience higher levels of positive emotions. On the other hand, perceived functioning showed a significant negative correlation with negative affect. This suggests that individuals who believed they were functioning well in different domains of life tended to experience lower levels of negative emotions.
Joshanloo found that the domain of “affiliation” had the highest correlation with the well-being variables, followed by domains like status, attractiveness, resource accumulation, and justice.
“In addition to the findings of the study, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to two points,” he told PsyPost. “First, while abstract and complicated concepts such as self-actualization and mental balance are undoubtedly important and enjoy contemporary popularity, this research underscores the remarkable importance of concrete and narrower facets such as sexual experience, physical appearance, and status in our daily lives. I believe that functioning well in these basic domains lays the foundation for achieving more complex and sophisticated versions of well-being that are valued in one’s cultural context (e.g., self-actualization, mental balance, and contentment).”
“Second, following on from the first point, for those who wish to evaluate how they are doing in life, a self-evaluation of their functioning in the 15 life domains highlighted in this study serves as a solid starting point. These are the domains that matter in our lives as members of the human species, and that most of us are motivated to care about.”
The average perceived functioning score across all domains was above the midpoint. This suggests that participants generally believed they were functioning reasonably well in these domains. However, when looking at individual domains, participants rated themselves lower in areas such as lust, status, and resource accumulation. Conversely, the highest perceived functioning scores were reported for safety, hygiene, and hunger.
“Many participants reported that they were not doing well in achieving their desired frequency of sex,” Joshanloo told PsyPost. “In fact, of the 15 domains, both the Canadian and international samples reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction with the domain of sex. This suggests that sexual dissatisfaction is widespread in our time and that more research is needed to understand its causes and consequences.”
Joshanloo also pointed out another interesting finding: “Better functioning in the wealth domain is associated with better functioning not only in the domains of status and resource accumulation, but also in domains related to mating (i.e., attractiveness, affiliation, and love). Thus, wealth remains a valuable asset in the mating game.”
But the study, like all research, includes some limitations. While Study 2 included an international sample, most of the participants were based in either the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Germany, or the United States.
“I believe the most important caveat is that people from many regions of the world (e.g., the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia) are underrepresented in the samples used in the study,” Joshanloo said. “To address this limitation, future research should include a more diverse range of participants from different cultures and backgrounds.”
The study, “Perceived Functioning in Evolutionarily Important Domains of Life“, was published online on July 10, 2023.