It is well understood that, if a person comes to see a situation as dangerous, that person will interpret information differently, behave differently, make different choices, and change physiologically. But what if a person sees the whole world as, essentially, one big dangerous place? Though it’s a truism that everyone sees the world differently, people’s most basic world beliefs—sometimes referred to as primal world beliefs—were only recently mapped empirically. This involved, for example, analyzing thousands of tweets and hundreds of historical texts to identify all primal world beliefs subjects could hold, then analyzing data from a few thousand subjects to determine statistically what beliefs subjects actually hold. This revealed 26 dimensions—many new to psychologists—with most clustering into the beliefs that the world is Safe (vs. dangerous), Enticing (vs. dull), and Alive (vs. mechanistic). Now, over 40 psychology labs worldwide are exploring the origins and diverse potential implications of primal world beliefs. After introducing the research space, Dr. Clifton will discuss some of the more surprising recent findings about connections to wellbeing, privilege, parenting, and politics.
Jeremy D. W. Clifton received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania under Dr. Martin Seligman (advisor) and Dr. Angela Duckworth (committee chair). His research focuses on primal world beliefs and measurement methodology. Publications include the 2019 Psychological Assessment article featured in the Washington Post that introduced and empirically mapped primal world beliefs, a 2020 Psychological Methods article on validity versus reliability tradeoffs in scale creation, and a 2022 Perspectives on Psychological Science article on cross-cultural scale invariance. He is currently senior research scientist at the Penn Positive Psychology Center, director of the Primals Project, and teaches research methods in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program. Last year his research was featured in Forbes, The Atlantic, Fox News, Elle, and Psychology Today. Website. Twitter: @JerClifton
Optional learning enrichment opportunity:
Before learning about primal world belief research, people often value the chance to take the Primals Inventory themselves, learn about their own primal world beliefs, and get a personalized report comparing their beliefs to a national average. That opportunity is free and publicly available here.
This 5-minute video summary of Dr. Clifton’s research provides an introduction to the topic.