What Sort of World is This? Introduction to Emerging Psychological Research on Primal World Beliefs

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. Jeremy Clifton will discuss some of the more surprising recent findings about connections to wellbeing, privilege, parenting, and politics.

Clifton is a senior research scientist at the Penn Positive Psychology Center and director of the Primals Project. Last year his research was featured in Forbes, The Atlantic, Fox News, Elle, and Psychology Today. received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania studying with Dr. Martin Seligman, Dr. Angela Duckworth, and Dr. Robert DeRubeis.

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.