ArticlePDF Available

Testing If Primal World Beliefs Reflect Experiences—Or at Least Some Experiences Identified ad hoc

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

Do negative primal world beliefs reflect experiences such as trauma, crime, or low socio-economic status? Clifton and colleagues recently suggested that primals—defined as beliefs about the general character of the world as a whole, such as the belief that the world is safe (vs. dangerous) and abundant (vs. barren)—may shape many of the most-studied variables in psychology. Yet researchers do not yet know why individuals adopt their primals nor the role of experience in shaping primals. Many theories can be called retrospective theories; these theories suggest that past experiences lead to the adoption of primals that reflect those experiences. For example, trauma increases the belief that the world is dangerous and growing up poor increases the belief that the world is barren. Alternatively, interpretive theories hold that primals function primarily as lenses on experiences while being themselves largely unaffected by them. This article identifies twelve empirical tests where each theory makes different predictions and hypothesizes that retrospective theories are typically less accurate than interpretive theories. I end noting that, even if retrospective theories are typically inaccurate, that does not imply experiences do not shape primals. I end by offering a conceptual architecture—the Cube Framework—for exploring the full range of human experience and suggest that, though psychologists have historically focused on negative, externally imposed experiences of short-duration (e.g., trauma), positive, internally driven, and longer-term experiences are also worth considering.
Content may be subject to copyright.
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 1
CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS
published: 24 June 2020
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01145
Edited by:
Alice Chirico,
Catholic University of the Sacred
Heart, Italy
Reviewed by:
Martina Benvenuti,
National Research Council (CNR), Italy
Anthony Dickinson Mancini,
Pace University, United States
Brian Jack Hill,
Brigham Young University,
United States
*Correspondence:
Jeremy D. W. Clifton
cliftonj@sas.upenn.edu
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Cognition,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 04 January 2020
Accepted: 04 May 2020
Published: 24 June 2020
Citation:
Clifton JDW (2020) Testing If
Primal World Beliefs Reflect
Experiences—Or at Least Some
Experiences Identified ad hoc.
Front. Psychol. 11:1145.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01145
Testing If Primal World Beliefs
Reflect Experiences—Or at Least
Some Experiences Identified ad hoc
Jeremy D. W. Clifton*
Seligman Lab, Positive Psychology Center, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA,
United States
Do negative primal world beliefs reflect experiences such as trauma, crime, or low socio-
economic status? Clifton and colleagues recently suggested that primals—defined as
beliefs about the general character of the world as a whole, such as the belief that
the world is safe (vs. dangerous) and abundant (vs. barren)—may shape many of the
most-studied variables in psychology. Yet researchers do not yet know why individuals
adopt their primals nor the role of experience in shaping primals. Many theories can be
called retrospective theories; these theories suggest that past experiences lead to the
adoption of primals that reflect those experiences. For example, trauma increases the
belief that the world is dangerous and growing up poor increases the belief that the world
is barren. Alternatively, interpretive theories hold that primals function primarily as lenses
on experiences while being themselves largely unaffected by them. This article identifies
twelve empirical tests where each theory makes different predictions and hypothesizes
that retrospective theories are typically less accurate than interpretive theories. I end
noting that, even if retrospective theories are typically inaccurate, that does not imply
experiences do not shape primals. I end by offering a conceptual architecture—the Cube
Framework—for exploring the full range of human experience and suggest that, though
psychologists have historically focused on negative, externally imposed experiences of
short-duration (e.g., trauma), positive, internally driven, and longer-term experiences are
also worth considering.
Keywords: experiences, primal world beliefs, trauma, socio-economic status, family income, gender, crime
INTRODUCTION
After psychologists introduce new constructs, such as learned helplessness or grit (Abramson
et al., 1978;Duckworth et al., 2007), many researchers eventually ask an important question:
Which experiences influence (or are influenced by) my construct? Having recently introduced a
construct (Clifton et al., 2019), I turned to this question, beginning with a literature search for
a tool that would enable systematic theorizing about a broad range of experiences in relation
to my construct. What I found instead were a few organizing frameworks unsuited to this
particular task of general theorizing (e.g., Duerden et al., 2018) and a handful of largely overlapping
clinically oriented checklists dominated by a particular type of involuntary, negative experiences
of quick duration, such as injury or death of a family member (e.g., the Social Readjustment
Rating Scale by Holmes and Rahe, 1967; the Life Experiences Survey by Sarason et al., 1978).
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 1June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 2
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
Moreover, despite positive psychology’s promising departure
from psychology’s historical focus on negative experiences
(Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), the positive psychology
literature has yet to produce commensurate checklists of positive
experiences. Thus, absent the tool I sought, I conducted the
sort of ad hoc process that is common among researchers. In
this process, hypotheses emerge concerning those experiences
the researcher happens to think of, often ones already examined
in relevant literatures or ones intersecting personal experience.
This process has weaknesses. Chief among them is that
research programs can never support a reasonably adequate
understanding of the role of experience if no reasonably
comprehensive range of things one personally encounters,
undergoes, or lives through—Merriam-Webster’s definition of
experiences—is ever considered. Thus, after discussing a newly
introduced construct and engaging in a typical process of ad hoc
literature-driven hypothesis generation, I conclude this article
with an atypical offering: a simple yet comprehensive conceptual
framework for considering the full range of human experiences
called the Cube Framework.
THE NEW(ISH) CONSTRUCT: PRIMAL
WORLD BELIEFS
For decades various literatures have independently examined the
possibility that particular dependent variables, such as political
ideology and recovery from trauma, may stem from individual
differences in generalized beliefs about the sort of world this is
(Janoff-Bulman, 1989;Perry et al., 2013). The most studied is
belief in a Just world, which is the belief that the world is a place
where one gets what one deserves and deserves what one gets.
Originally identified by Lerner (1965, 1980) to study the roots of
blame and racism, Just has since been tied to dozens of variables
that Just is thought to causally influence. In sum, those higher
in Just tend to be kinder (presumably because the world rewards
kindness); more hard-working (presumably because the world
rewards hard work); more successful (because they’ve worked
harder, were nicer, and are motivated to post hoc justify success);
and blame victims like the sick and poor (presumably because
they probably got what they deserved). Clifton et al. (2019)
recently pulled these literatures together, calling beliefs about
the basic character of the world primals or primal world beliefs,
and engaged in an extensive empirical process to map all major
primals. We found that Just was one of 26 different primals most
of which had never been studied (see Figure 1), and many of
the new primals are more predictive of human behavior than
Just, such as the belief that the world is Beautiful (vs. ugly) and
Pleasurable (vs. miserable).
This suggests the plausibility of a truly remarkable scenario
described by Clifton and Kim (2020, p. 1). In sum, understanding
the behavior of any creature requires observations of that
creature in multiple environments. But humans can only
ever observe each other in one environment: the world.
Not realizing we profoundly disagree about this world along
many dimensions, human efforts to understand each other’s
behavior should lead inevitably to a specific type of failure:
overexaggerating the importance of dispositional differences
(i.e., the fundamental attribution error). Thus, it is theoretically
possible that psychologists have overlooked a major source of
variation in most of the most-studied variables in psychology.
Clifton et al. (2019) identify dozens of variables, such as
BIG 5 personality traits and subjective well-being, that are
likely impacted.
As research exploring the causal role of primals continues,
it is worth asking a related but separate question: Where do
primals come from? Specifically, which experiences shape (and
are shaped by) primal world beliefs? The former question is broad
and requires, among other things, a deep discussion of genetics
and the ontology of personality traits, which is out of scope.
This article concerns the more specific latter question about
identifying relevant experiences.
RETROSPECTIVE AND INTERPRETIVE
THEORIES OF HOW PRIMALS RELATE
TO EXPERIENCES
Theories of how experiences shape primal world beliefs often
fall into two broad types: retrospective theories and interpretive
theories. Retrospective theories suggest that experiences play a
key role in shaping primals such that primals often reflect the
content of the individual’s background. In this view, for example,
the rich are likely to see the world as more Abundant, the poor
are likely to see the world as more barren (i.e., low Abundant
scores), and experiencing dangerous environments locally should
cause one to see the world as more dangerous globally. This
is consistent with an intuitively appealing theory animating
much of the pre-existing literature on primals originally posed
by traumatologist Janoff-Bulman (1989) and adopted by several
others (Foa and Rothbaum, 1998;Foa et al., 1999;Kauffman,
2002;Boelen et al., 2006). This theory holds that traumatic events
dramatically increases the belief that the world is dangerous (i.e.,
low Safe scores on the Primals Inventory). Since our (Clifton
et al., 2019) identification of several previously unidentified
primals, I have observed anecdotally at talks and conferences
that similar retrospective intuitions emerge to explain primals’
origins. For example, many researchers intuit that the rich will see
the world as a Good place and privileged racial majorities will see
the world as more Just and Abundant than minorities. What all
these retrospective theories and intuitions have in common is the
notion that past experiences characterized by Xquality pushes the
individual toward seeing the world as characterized by Xquality
to such an extent that the individual’s primals reveal not just one’s
beliefs but also one’s demographics.
Interpretive theories posit that, rather than a mirror reflecting
one’s experiences, a primal functions as a lens used to interpret
experiences while being itself largely uninfluenced by them. For
example, an interpretive theory of how the primal Abundant
relates to personal wealth would predict that being rich (or poor)
would have little to no impact on the belief that the world is
Abundant. Likewise, experiencing dangerous environments or
trauma (or safe environments) would have little to no impact
on the belief that the world is Safe. Though such interpretive
theories are reasonable, it’s fair to say that they are typically not as
intuitively appealing as their retrospective counterparts.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 2June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 3
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
FIGURE 1 | Definitions and structure of the 26 primal world beliefs (22 tertiary, three secondary, and one primary) as identified by Clifton et al. (2019). Reproduced
from Clifton and Kim (2020).
Nevertheless, I hypothesize that interpretive theories are
generally more accurate than retrospective theories, though likely
with some moderate exceptions such as childhood trauma and
chronic pain. My rationale stems from the central point of Janoff-
Bulman’s (1989) original article, subtitled Applications of the
Schema Construct, where she suggests that world beliefs likely
operate as schemas.
Though definitions of schema vary (Van der Veer, 2000),
the paradigm has been central to belief research for decades
(e.g., Beck, 1963, 1964, 1967, 2005;Crum, 2013;Dweck, 2017).
The term usually refers to pre-existing mental models about an
object used to generate expectations, assist interpretation and
memory reconstruction, and guide interaction (e.g., Piaget, 1926;
Rumelhart, 1980;Janoff-Bulman, 1989;Bernstein et al., 1991;
Brewer, 2000;Nash, 2013). For example, Davis (1991) found that
a schema for an egg involves at least 45 different modifiers such
as nutritious,delicate, and laid in nests.
In addition to introducing the idea of schemas (1926),
Piaget (1971) theorized how schemas would typically relate to
experiences. When facing evidence of a schema violation, Piaget
posits two options—accommodation (revising one’s schema) or
assimilation (reinterpreting the new information to minimize
its importance)—and assimilation would be overwhelmingly
favored. Decades of research confirms this. When facing schema-
inconsistent information, individuals tend to ignore it, reject it,
reinterpret it, or adopt other rejection-seeking behavior (e.g.,
Ross et al., 1975;Hastie, 1981;Janoff-Bulman, 1989;Brewer,
2000). As schema’s influence perceptions, the new information
will often serve as “evidence” for the veracity of the original
schema (e.g., Vernon, 1955;Labianca et al., 2000), thus creating
aself-supporting feedback loop. In addition to altering percepts
directly, a schema’s influence on behavior can also lead to
actual outcomes that provide further “evidence” of the original
schema, creating a self-fulfilling feedback cycle (e.g., Labianca
et al., 2000). In this way, schemas contribute to the phenomenon
termed confirmation bias (e.g., Merton, 1948;Jussim, 1986;
Nickerson, 1998).
Though Janoff-Bulman (1989) acknowledged that “the
tendency is toward assimilation rather than accommodation,
she thought trauma would be an exception that would reliably
and dramatically alter world assumptions, including what we
(Clifton et al., 2019) call primal world beleifs.Janoff-Bulman
(1992) book on trauma was entitled Shattered Assumptions and
her theory is sometimes called shattered assumptions theory. Yet
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 3June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 4
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
Kaler et al. (2008) found that in only about a quarter of those
recently traumatized was there any reliable change in world
beliefs and—moreover—these were equally divided between
those coming to see the world more negatively and those coming
to see the world more positively. Indeed, as Mancini et al.
(2011) note, despite the popularity of shattered assumptions
theory, there is little evidence much shattering happens. This
is partly due to the absence of control groups, but also the
smallness of observed effects which, when it is observed at all, is
typically small, even among Holocaust survivors (e.g., Prager and
Solomon, 1995). Indeed, if those who experienced first-hand the
mass systematic internment, deprivation, torture, and slaughter
during the Holocaust—arguably one of the most traumatic events
in history—do not see the world as that much worse than those
who escaped the experience, then retrospective explanations
of how negative primals arise probably has less to offer than
intuition suggests.
Yet, as Mancini et al. (2011) point out, shattered assumptions
theory remains popular among researchers and clinicians—even
lay people—likely in part because of its intuitive appeal. Indeed,
after encountering similar patterns of retrospective intuitions
in connection to newly identified primals, I have come to
suspect several biases are at play, including an actor-observer
bias wherein individuals tend to condescendingly imagine that
other people cannot help but believe the things they do because
of their backgrounds while our own primal world beliefs stem
from something more objective and clear-eyed (Clifton, in press).
Others are on a journey; I have arrived.
It may be that, rather than experiences influencing primals in
a straightforward way, individuals use past experiences to justify
whatever primal they already hold. For example, if one sees the
world as a dangerous place and gets into a car accident, perhaps
on average he will eventually frame that experience as evidence
of what he knew all along. Likewise, if one sees the world as
a safe place and gets into a car accident, perhaps on average
she will eventually frame this experience as exceptional, having
occurred for local, particular, and temporary reasons. Indeed,
because the world is a giant dataset, there is much information
that can be garnered in support of any primal. And if primals
direct attention and resist assimilation as the schema literature
suggests, researchers should expect such garnering to occur, and
thus retrospective theories to be generally inaccurate.
Could a theory explaining how experiences relate to primals
be both non-retrospective and non-interpretive? Perhaps.
However, whereas retrospective theories could be completely
false without fundamentally altering current assumptions
about primals and their nature, the same is not true of
interpretive theories. Fundamental to our (Janoff-Bulman,
1989;Clifton et al., 2019;Clifton and Kim, 2020;Clifton,
in press) understanding of primals is the same assumption
underlying researcher’s conceptions of beliefs generally (e.g.,
Beck, 1963, 1964, 1967, 2005;Crum, 2013;Dweck, 2017).
Namely, that beliefs influence thought and behavior largely via
ambiguity interpretation. If primals were found to exert no
influence on the interpretation of one’s personal experiences,
then primals are either (a) exclusively symptoms rather
than causes of primals’ numerous personality and well-
being correlates; (b) primals’ impact on these outcomes is
unmediated by interpretation; or (c) primals do influence the
interpretation of some new information but, for some reason,
not new personal experiences. Given current research, these
options seem unlikely.
TWELVE HYPOTHESES
To determine whether retrospective or interpretive theories are
typically more accurate across different primals and different
experiences, ideally multiple hypotheses in which each theory
makes diverging predictions should be examined. Table 1
specifies twelve hypotheses which were selected according
to three criteria.
The measurability of the relevant life experience.
The involuntariness of the experience (to avoid con-
founding causal relationships).
The clarity of alternative retrospective and interpretive
predictions.
Multiple hypotheses are necessary because some involve
disputable assumptions that others do not. For example, perhaps
the most dubious assumption underlies hypotheses #4: Is the
world really more dangerous for women than men when men are
more likely to be killed violently and die on average 5 years sooner
(e.g., Rochelle et al., 2015)? Perhaps, but among a variety of
threats that disproportionately impact women, it is indisputable
that most women spend life surrounded by biologically stronger,
faster, more aggressive individuals who are motivated to assault
them, often do, and whose denials are traditionally more likely
to be believed over women’s accusations (e.g., Lassek and Gaulin,
2009). Thus, if researchers were to find that nevertheless women
and men see the world as equally Safe, that can be considered
inconsistent with a retrospective theory of how Safe develops,
though not compelling unless other hypotheses relying on
different assumptions are also examined.
All twelve hypotheses can be determined by interpreting
correlational effect sizes, with thresholds for interpretation
varying depending on the hypotheses. However, based on
commonly used thresholds (e.g., Cohen, 1992), the threshold of
r>0.30 that Kaler et al. (2008) used to examine a retrospective
theory, and my own research experience, I suggest the following
admittedly arbitrary thresholds for pairwise relationships:
r>0.30 can be considered clearly consistent with the
retrospective prediction and clearly inconsistent with the
interpretive prediction.
0.295 >r>0.20 can be considered weakly consistent with
the retrospective prediction and weakly inconsistent with
the interpretative prediction.
0.195 >r>0.10 can be considered weakly inconsistent with
the retrospective prediction and weakly consistent with the
interpretive prediction.
0.095 >r>-0.095 can be considered clearly inconsistent
with the retrospective prediction and clearly consistent with
the interpretive prediction.
Because the twelve hypotheses seek to derive conclusions
from orthogonality, I would remind the reader that, while
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 4June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 5
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
correlation does not indicate causation, under certain
assumptions orthogonality does suggest causality’s absence
or trivialness. Of course, researchers should check those
assumptions, particularly curvilinearity, possible third
variable confounds, indirect pathways, and counterbalancing
effects. For example, Mancini et al. (2016) found that the
negative psychological impact of the Virginia Tech shootings
was mitigated by the countervailing effects of increased
social support which may influence, among other things,
beliefs about the world (Mancini, 2019). Nevertheless, if
primals do not reflect backgrounds in a straightforward
manner as evidenced by bivariate analysis, this would
suggest that retrospective theories are inaccurate even if
further analysis reveals confounds, indirect pathways, or
counterbalancing effects. Retrospective theories are by definition
not nuanced in this way.
Previous research sheds light on several of these hypotheses,
especially trauma research. For example, converting Prager
and Solomon’s (1995) results to a Pearson’s rsuggests that
that subjects who experienced the Holocaust see the world
TABLE 1 | Alternative retrospective and interpretive predictions of twelve correlational relationships between primals and experiences.
Primal Experience Retrospective prediction Interpretive prediction
1 Childhood trauma Trauma often increases the belief that the world is
dangerous. Therefore, increased trauma should
correlate substantially with lower Safe scores.
The primal Safe is used to interpret trauma while being
itself little affected by it. Therefore, increased trauma
should be marginally related or orthogonal to Safe
scores.
2 Adulthood trauma
3
Safe (vs. dangerous)
Neighborhood crime rates Living in dangerous places increases the belief that the
world is dangerous. Therefore, living in a more
dangerous zip code based on crime statistics should
correlate with lower Safe scores.
The primal Safe is used to interpret dangerous
situations while being itself marginally affected by them.
Therefore, living in a dangerous zip code should be
marginally related or orthogonal to Safe scores.
4 Sex Being physically weaker than many around
you—especially people motivated to assault people like
you and often do—leads to seeing the world as more
dangerous. Therefore, being female should correlate
with low Safe scores.
The primal Safe is used to interpret situations in which
one is susceptible to dangers while being itself
marginally affected by them. Therefore, being female
should be marginally related or orthogonal to Safe
scores.
5 Childhood SES Growing up poor often results in seeing the world as a
more barren place with fewer resources and
opportunities. Therefore, low childhood socio-economic
status (SES) should correlate with low Abundant scores.
The primal Abundant is used to interpret childhood
material circumstance while being itself marginally
affected by it. Therefore, low childhood SES should be
marginally related or orthogonal to Abundant scores.
6Abundant (vs. barren) Family income Being poor often results in seeing the world as a more
barren place with fewer resources and opportunities.
Therefore, low family income should correlate with low
Abundant scores.
The primal Abundant is used to interpret material
circumstances while being itself marginally affected by
it. Therefore, low family income should be marginally
related or orthogonal to Abundant scores.
7 Neighborhood mean
income
Living in a poor neighborhood often results in seeing
the world as a more barren place with fewer resources
and opportunities. Therefore, living in a lower-income
area should correlate with low Abundant scores.
The primal Abundant is used to interpret material
circumstances while being itself marginally affected by
it. Therefore, living in a lower-income area should be
marginally related or orthogonal to Abundant scores.
8Pleasurable
(vs. miserable)
Chronic pain Being in chronic physical pain often results in seeing the
world as a more miserable and uncomfortable place.
Therefore, chronic pain exposure should correlate with
low Pleasurable scores.
The primal Pleasurable is used to interpret experiences
of pain while being itself marginally affected by it.
Therefore, experiencing chronic pain should be
marginally related or orthogonal to Pleasurable scores.
9 Childhood SES Higher SES while growing up corresponds with having
more frequent and intense pleasurable experiences in
childhood, which often results in seeing the world as a
more pleasurable place. Therefore, higher childhood
SES should correlate with Pleasurable scores.
The primal Pleasurable is used to interpret pleasurable
experiences in childhood while being itself marginally
affected by it. Therefore, high childhood
socio-economic status should be marginally related or
orthogonal to the belief that the world is pleasurable.
10 Family income High family income allows more frequent and intense
pleasurable experiences, often resulting in seeing the
world as a more pleasurable place. Therefore, higher
family income should correlate with Pleasurable scores.
The primal Pleasurable is used to interpret pleasurable
experiences while being itself marginally affected by
them. Therefore, family income should be marginally
related or orthogonal to Pleasurable scores.
11 textitProgressing
(vs. declining)
Change in SES from
childhood to adulthood
Experiencing decline in your SES often results in seeing
the world as declining. Therefore, decline in SES from
childhood to adulthood should correlate with lower
Progressing scores.
The primal Progressing is used to interpret decline in
SES while being itself marginally affected by it.
Therefore, decline in SES from childhood to adulthood
should be marginally related or orthogonal to
Pleasurable scores.
12 Change in neighborhood
mean income
Living in a declining neighborhood often results in
seeing the world as declining. Therefore, living in an
area that is in economic decline should correlate with
lower Progressing scores.
The primal Progressing is used to interpret
neighborhood decline while being itself marginally
affected by it. Therefore, neighborhood decline should
be marginally related or orthogonal to
Progressing scores.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 5June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 6
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
as less benevolent at r(158) = 0.31. This is clearly consistent
with the retrospective prediction and clearly inconsistent with
the interpretive prediction—but barely so. Using the World
Assumptions Scale, Kaler et al. (2008) found in a sample of 735
undergraduates that increased lifetime trauma correlated with
world benevolence beliefs at r= -0.14 and recent trauma did not
seem to have any impact on these beliefs. Given the severity of
the Holocaust compared to, say, getting mugged, could it be that
r= 0.31 approximates an upper-limit trauma effect?
However, because hypotheses concern several primals that
only the Primals Inventory measures and because the Primals
Inventory is a superior measure of primals (largely by default; for
a detailed discussion see Clifton, in press), it is ideal if all twelve
hypotheses are examined using the Primals Inventory. To some
extent this too has been done. Buried on pages 310–323 of Clifton
et al.’s (2019) supplement is a large correlational matrix showing
relationships among 524 Americans, ages 18–75 (M= 37), who
were approximately 50% women and 50% college graduates.
Concerning Hypothesis #4, women did not see the world
as more dangerous than men (r= 0.01, p>0.05).
Concerning Hypothesis #5, growing up poor did not
correlate with seeing the world as less Abundant (r= -0.07,
p>0.05).
Concerning Hypothesis #6, those in families with higher
incomes did not see the world as more Abundant (r= 0.05,
p>0.05).
Concerning Hypothesis #9, growing up poor did not
correlate with seeing the world as less Pleasurable (r= -0.06,
p>0.05).
Concerning Hypothesis #10, high family income did
not correlate with seeing the world as more Pleasurable
(r= 0.03, p>0.05).
These results are, based on above thresholds, clearly
inconsistent with retrospective predictions and clearly consistent
with interpretive predictions. But these results also come
from one sample in which only a preliminary version of the
Primals Inventory was used, literally thousands of correlational
relationships were examined without correcting for multiple
comparisons, above hypotheses were not pre-registered, and
most of the twelve hypotheses “were not examined”. Much
remains unclear.
WHERE SHOULD RESEARCHERS LOOK
INSTEAD?
If researchers find that retrospective theories are generally
inaccurate, does that mean that experiences do not shape primals?
No. Interpretive theories only presume that primals do not
reflect the content of past experiences in a straightforward
manner, but experiences come in many shapes and sizes and
might influence primals in a variety of less straightforward ways.
Where could researchers look next? What experiences might
researchers focus on?
These questions are impossible to answer without a reasonably
exhaustive framework by which a breadth of human experiences
can be considered. After recently introducing the primals
construct (Clifton et al., 2019), I asked the same question that
many researchers before me have asked: Which experiences
influence (or are influenced by) my construct? Failing to unearth
some sort of comprehensive framework or measurement tool
that identifies a broad range of psychologically important human
experiences that I could use as a basis for systematic theorizing
about experiences in relation to my construct, I created the
following Cube Framework. I provide it here to aid other
researchers examining other constructs, to highlight areas for
further research on the primals construct, and to invite comment
before using it to build a more comprehensive experience
checklist than is currently available.
Three Dimensions of the Cube
Framework
There are three major psychologically salient continuous
dimensions by which all experiences vary. For practicality, the
Cube Framework simplifies these dimensions into dichotomies.
The point is not to know precisely where a particular experience
falls on a dimension but for the researcher to have a tool
to guard against the consideration of only a narrow slice of
human experience.
Chronic-Acute
All experiences happen in time. Thus, all experiences
can be sorted into more acute experiences that take
moments/days/weeks and more chronic experiences that
take months/years/decades. Previous experiences checklists
have generally ignored chronic life experiences, such as having
a chronic illness or negative boss. However, demographic
information is often important precisely because it captures
chronic experiences, such as being male or poor.
Internal-External
All experiences are to varying degrees under the individual’s
control. Several literatures draw attention to the psychological
importance of this distinction including learned helplessness,
attribution theory, optimism/explanatory style, personality, locus
of control, and incremental theory (Lewin, 1936;Rotter, 1966;
Abramson et al., 1978;Peterson and Seligman, 1984;Blackwell
et al., 2007;Harvey et al., 2014). Though many experiences,
such as going to college, can be either internally driven or
more externally imposed, many experiences can be fairly readily
categorized as more often one or the other. A death in the family
or inheriting a fortune, for example, are experiences that are
usually externally imposed.
Positive-Negative
All experiences vary by subjective desirability (good, neutral,
or bad). Though most difficult to measure objectively, this
dimension is also the most psychologically impactful.
There is a massive gulf, after all, between a good childhood
and a bad childhood, a good sex life and a bad sex
life, and so forth. However, like the internal-external
dimension, exactly where any given experience falls on
the positive-negative dimension may be up for debate.
Nevertheless, many experiences will be readily characterizable.
Death and injury, for example, can be thought of as
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 6June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 7
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
negative. Receiving a promotion or falling in love can be
considered positive.
Eight Types of Experiences in the Cube
Framework
The permutations of these three dimensions reveals eight types of
human experience (Figure 2).
Bad Choices
Acute, internally driven, negative experiences—bad choices
may include losing one’s savings in a poor investment, stealing,
cheating, sexually assaulting someone, sleeping with a friend’s
spouse, deciding to drive home drunk, or joining a cult.
Bad Habits
Chronic, internally driven, negative experiences—bad habits
may include a gambling habit, smoking, pessimism, distrust,
overeating, overspending, continually returning to an abusive
partner, or staying in a cult.
Bad Luck
Acute, externally imposed, negative experiences—bad luck
may include natural disasters, car accidents, stroke, fire, and
sudden deaths in the family. The large majority of experiences
mentioned by the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (Holmes
and Rahe, 1967) and the Life Experiences Survey (Sarason
et al., 1978) consists of such bad luck experiences. Studying
them is worthwhile, but they represent only a narrow slice
of life.
Bad Times
Chronic, externally imposed, negative experiences—bad times
may include being raised by a negative parent, growing up
receiving person praise rather than process praise (Kamins and
FIGURE 2 | The cube framework uses three dimensions to sort all
experiences into eight categories.
Dweck, 1999); coping with chronic pain, being unemployed,
having an unkind boss, involuntarily fighting in a war, or living
in a society prejudiced against your gender or race.
Good Choices
Acute, internally driven, positive experiences—good choices
may include falling in love, identifying your mission in life, taking
a backpacking trip across Europe, or converting to a religion.
Good Habits
Chronic, internally driven, positive experiences—good habits
may include staying physically active, mastering a skill, engaging
in some life-giving activity like ballroom dancing or playing in the
local philharmonic, chronically believing the best about others,
being an avid reader, gardening, spending time outdoors, being
in a committed relationship, being an avid traveler, taking care of
a dog, volunteering for charity, or raising children.
Good Luck
Acute, externally imposed, positive experiences—good luck—may
include inheriting a fortune, winning the lottery, getting adopted,
being recruited for a job, being granted a pardon, or receiving a
voucher to go to a better school.
Good Times
Chronic, externally imposed, positive experiences—good times
may include living in a peaceful society, being raised by a
highly supportive parent, receiving a 4-year liberal arts education,
enjoying sustained access to medical care, or being mentored by
an incredible teacher.
Using the Cube Framework
Instead of listing out all human experiences, the Cube Framework
provides a method that researchers can use to systematically
theorize about a diversity of experiences. I suggest using it in
two ways. First, the researcher can ask themselves eight questions
about each experience type. For example, What good choices
might influence or be influenced by my construct? However,
examining experiences only by type risks the Cube Framework
becoming a filter such that only experiences that fit neatly within
each type are considered. Addiction, depression, and obesity,
for example, are clearly chronic and negative (and important
to study) but less clearly categorized along the internal-external
dimension, and thus may not emerge from eight questions about
the eight types. Therefore, second, I suggest that psychologists
also theorize by dimension, one dimension at a time. For
example, when considering the acute-chronic dimension I might
ask myself: What experiences that relate my construct might
happen in a moment. . .in an hour. . .in a day. . .in a week, in a
month. . .in a year. . .in a decade. . .or last a lifetime? Using both
by-type and by-dimension approaches ensures that a diversity of
experiences are considered.
The Cube Framework allows flexibility because it is able
to incorporate any additional fourth dimension the researcher
might deem important. For example, there is arguably at
least one other psychologically important dimension on which
all experiences vary that the Cube Framework does not
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 7June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 8
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
incorporate: all experiences can be sorted by the age at
which an experience occurs in the life of the person. The
Cube Framework does not include this dimension because
I found adding it led to the identification of relatively few
novel hypotheses, lowered the utility of the framework by
complicating it, and, most importantly, age is a characteristic
of the person rather than the experience. However, if a
researcher wishes to ensure diversity along this or any
other fourth dimension, researchers can consider not one
cube but two cubes, with each cube labeled according to
the fourth dimension, such as Childhood Experiences and
Adulthood Experiences. Then the researcher can consider
childhood bad times separately from adulthood bad times,
childhood good choices separately from adulthood good choices,
and so forth.
Promising Areas for Further Primals
Research
With the big exception of research over the last two decades in
positive psychology, psychologists have historically focused on
acute, externally imposed, negative (i.e., bad luck) experiences like
trauma and neglected experiences that last longer, are internally
driven, and positive. Thus, when considering which experiences
might influence primals, positive and chronic experiences (good
times and good habits), such as having a highly supportive parent
or teacher, might be worth further examination. Positive acute
experiences, such as powerful moments of transcendence, are
also promising.
Furthermore, if retrospective theories are typically
inaccurate—if exposure to Xquality typically has no impact
on ways of thinking about the world generally—then perhaps
exposure to alternative ways of thinking about Xquality
is what matters. This exposure might occasionally be self-
driven by the philosophically adventurous but more typically
result from personal social interactions with mentors, friends,
colleagues, therapists, parents, or others who see the world
differently. Exposure may also occur through storytelling via,
for example, movies and novels. For example, a premise of the
2003 and 1999 hit films Love Actually and American Beauty
is that love and beauty are everywhere, even in the midst of
pain and suffering—even perversion. Whatever the medium,
encounters with alternative lenses on reality may sometimes
result in one coming to prefer them. Informal social pressures
may also be at work. For example, one unpublished primals
research study awaiting duplication indicates that students
are more likely than the general public to see the world as
dangerous. Is this because the student context is a particularly
dangerous one—the retrospective explanation? Likely not.
Instead, perhaps the task itself or particular subcultures
implicitly encourage—teach—this primal through a variety
of formal and informal incentives and social mechanisms. If
exposure to different lenses on reality impacts which lenses
we choose for ourselves, perhaps researchers will find that one
experience that shapes primal world beliefs is taking the Primals
Inventory, learning what primals one holds, and discovering
one has options.
FINAL REMARKS
In this article I have asked the typical question a researcher
asks after introducing a construct: Which experiences influence
(or are influenced by) my construct? In the case of primals,
I have discussed two broad possibilities. The first holds
that primals generally reflect our backgrounds in a fairly
straightforward manner (retrospective theories). The second
suggests that primals are used to interpret experiences while
being themselves marginally influenced by them (interpretive
theories). This article has specified twelve empirical tests to
determine which approach is typically more accurate, which
I hypothesize will most often be interpretive theories despite
having less intuitive appeal and running counter to some
existing theory. If research confirms this, researchers will have
to look elsewhere to determine which experiences might impact
primals. To facilitate that search, I have provided the Cube
Framework as a tool for methodically considering a range of
human experiences and generating hypotheses. My own use of
it suggests that a promising place to look will be chronic and
positive experiences, such as having a supportive and esteemed
parent or mentor who implicitly or explicitly encourages certain
primals, as well as acute and positive experiences, such as
transcendent experiences.
In closing, however, I confess some pessimism. It may be
that few naturally occurring life experiences reliably influence
primals. Perhaps primals typically emerge early in life for
idiosyncratic reasons in a process non-deterministically yet
strongly impacted by genetics. Primals could then perpetuate
themselves through mechanisms associated with schemas. This
would not mean, however, that primals cannot be changed by
experiences, just that they generally are not. Researchers already
know that beliefs very similar to primals can be reliably altered
through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (e.g., Beck, 2005). Thus,
even if experiences that influence primals cannot be found,
perhaps they can be designed.
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
The first and sole author is responsible for all the
content of the article.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I am grateful to AC for encouraging me to write this article and
M.E.P.S. for recognizing the value of the cube framework when I
created it for my own use years ago.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 8June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 9
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
REFERENCES
Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., and Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned
helplessness in humans: critique and reformulation. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 87,
49–74. doi: 10.1037/0021-843x.87.1.49
Beck, A. T. (1963). Thinking and depression I: idiosyncratic content and cognitive
distortions. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 9, 324–333.
Beck, A. T. (1964). Thinking and depression II: theory and therapy. Arch. Gen.
Psychiatry 10, 561–571.
Beck, A. T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, Experimental, and Theoretical Aspects.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Beck, A. T. (2005). The current state of cognitive therapy: a 40-year retrospective.
Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 62, 953–959.
Bernstein, D. A., Roy, E., Skrull, T. K., and Wickens, C. D. (1991). Psychology.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., and Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of
intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal
study and an intervention. Child Dev. 78, 246–263. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.
2007.00995.x
Boelen, P. A., van den Bout, J., and van den Hout, M. A. (2006). Negative cognitions
and avoidance in emotional problems after bereavement: a prospective study.
Behav. Res. Therapy 44, 1657–1672. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2005.12.006
Brewer, W. F. (2000). “Bartlett’s concept of the schema and its impact on
theories of knowledge representation in contemporary cognitive psychology,
in Bartlett, Culture and Cognition, ed. A. Saito (Hove: Psychology
Press), 69–89.
Clifton, J. D. W., and Kim, E. S. (2020). Healthy in a crummy world: implications
of primal world beliefs for health psychology. Med. Hypothes. 135:109463. doi:
10.1016/j.mehy.2019.109463
Clifton, J. D. W. (in press). “Measuring primal world beliefs,” in Handbook of
Positive Psychology Assessment, eds W. Ruch, A. Bakker, L. Tay, and F. Gander
(Brussels: European Association of Psychological Assessment).
Clifton, J. D. W., Baker, J. D., Park, C. L., Yaden, D. B., Clifton, A. B. W., Terni, P.,
et al. (2019). Primal world beliefs. Psychological Assessment 31, 82–99.
Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychol. Bull. 112,
155–159.
Crum, A. J. (2013). Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mind sets in Determining the Stress
Response. Doctoral dissertation, ProQuest, Cambridge, MA.
Davis, P. M. (1991). Cognition and Learning: A Review of the Literature with
Reference to Ethnolinguistic Minorities. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of
Linguistics.
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., and Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit:
perseverance and passion for long-term goals. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 92, 1087–
1101. doi: 10.1037/0022- 3514.92.6.1087
Duerden, M. D., Lundberg, N. R., Ward, P., Taniguchi, S. T., Hill, B., Widmer,
M. A., et al. (2018). From ordinary to extraordinary: a framework of
experience types. J. Leisure Res. 49, 196–216. doi: 10.1080/00222216.2018.15
28779
Dweck, C. S. (2017). From needs to goals and representations: foundations for a
unified theory of motivation, personality, and development. Psychol. Rev. 124,
689–719. doi: 10.1037/rev0000082
Foa, E. B., Ehlers, A., Clark, D. M., Tolin, D. F., and Orsillo, S. M. (1999).
The posttraumatic cognitions inventory (PTCI): development and validation.
Psychol. Assess. 11, 303–314. doi: 10.1037/1040-3590.11.3.303
Foa, E. B., and Rothbaum, B. O. (1998). Treating the Trauma of Rape: Cognitive
Behavioral Therapy for PTSD. New York. NY: Guilford.
Harvey, P., Madison, K., Martinko, M., Crook, T. R., and Crook, T. A. (2014).
Attribution theory in the organizational sciences: the road traveled and the
path ahead. Acad. Manag. Perspect. 28, 128–146. doi: 10.5465/amp.2012.
0175
Hastie, R. (1981). “Schematic principles in human memory,” in Social Cognition,
eds E. T. Higgins, C. P. Herman, and M. Zanna (New Jersey: Erlbaum).
Holmes, T. H., and Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale.
J. Psychos. Res. 11, 213–218. doi: 10.1016/0022-3999(67)90010-4
Janoff-Bulman, R. (1989). Assumptive worlds and the stress of traumatic events:
applications of the schema construct. Soc. Cogn. 7, 113–136. doi: 10.1521/soco.
1989.7.2.113
Janoff-Bulman, R. (1992). Shattered Assumptions: Towards a New Psychology of
Trauma. New York, NY: Free Press.
Jussim, L. (1986). Self-fulfilling prophecies: a theoretical and integrative review.
Psychol. Rev. 93, 429–445. doi: 10.1037/0033- 295x.93.4.429
Kaler, M. E., Frazier, P. A., Anders, S. L., Tashiro, T., Tomich, P., Tennen, H., et al.
(2008). Assessing the psychometric properties of the world assumptions scale.
J. Traum. Stress 21, 326–332. doi: 10.1002/jts.20343
Kamins, M. L., and Dweck, C. S. (1999). Person versus process praise and criticism:
implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Dev. Psychol. 35, 835–847.
doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.35.3.835
Kauffman, J. (ed.) (2002). Loss of the Assumptive World: A Theory of Traumatic
Loss. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Labianca, G., Gray, B., and Brass, D. J. (2000). A grounded model of organizational
schema change during empowerment. Organ. Sci. 11, 235–257. doi: 10.1287/
orsc.11.2.235.12512
Lassek, W. D., and Gaulin, S. J. (2009). Costs and benefits of fat-free muscle
mass in men: relationship to mating success, dietary requirements, and native
immunity. Evol. Hum. Behav. 30, 322–328. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.
04.002
Lerner, M. J. (1965). Evaluation of performance as a function of performer’s reward
and attractiveness. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 1, 355–360. doi: 10.1037/h0021806
Lerner, M. J. (1980). Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion. New York,
NY: Plenum Press.
Lewin, K. (1936). Principles of Topological Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Book Company.
Mancini, A. D. (2019). When acute adversity improves psychological health:
a social–contextual framework. Psychol. Rev. 126, 486–505. doi: 10.1037/
rev0000144
Mancini, A. D., Littleton, H. L., and Grills, A. E. (2016). Can people benefit from
acute stress? Social support, psychological improvement, and resilience after the
Virginia Tech campus shootings. Clin. Psychol. Sci. 4, 401–417. doi: 10.1177/
2167702615601001
Mancini, A. D., Prati, G., and Bonanno, G. A. (2011). Do shattered worldviews lead
to complicated grief? Prospective and longitudinal analyses. J. Soc. Clin. Psychol.
30, 184–215. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2011.30.2.184
Merton, R. K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecy. Antioch Rev. 8, 193–210.
Nash, K. (2013). Mental Schema Accuracy: Investigating the Impact of Schemas
on Human Performance and Technology Usability. Doctoral dissertation,
Mississippi State University, Mississippi.
Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many
guises. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 2, 175–220. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175
Perry, R., Sibley, C. G., and Duckitt, J. (2013). Dangerous and competitive
worldviews: a meta-analysis of their associations with social dominance
orientation and right-wing authoritarianism. J. Res. Pers. 47, 116–127. doi:
10.1016/j.jrp.2012.10.004
Peterson, C., and Seligman, M. E. P. (1984). Causal explanations as a risk factor for
depression: theory and evidence. Psychol. Rev. 91, 347–374. doi: 10.1037/0033-
295x.91.3.347
Piaget, J. (1926). The Language and Thought of the Child. Oxford: Harcourt.
Piaget, J. (1971). The Construction of Reality in the Child. New York, NY: Basic
Books.
Prager, E., and Solomon, Z. (1995). Perceptions of world benevolence,
meaningfulness, and self-worth among elderly Israeli holocaust survivors
and non-survivors. Anxiety Stress Coping 8, 265–277. doi: 10.1080/
10615809508249378
Rochelle, T. L., Yeung, D. K., Bond, M. H., and Li, L. M. W. (2015). Predictors of
the gender gap in life expectancy across 54 nations. Psychol. Health Med. 20,
129–138. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2014.936884
Ross, L., Lepper, M. R., and Hubbard, M. (1975). Perseverance in self-perception
and social perception: biased attributional processes in the debriefing paradigm.
J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 32, 880–892. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.32.5.880
Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control
of reinforcement. Psychol. Monogr. Gen. Appl. 80, 1–28. doi: 10.1037/h00
92976
Rumelhart, D. E. (1980). “Schemata: the building blocks of cognition,” in
Theoretical Issues in Reading Comprehension, Vol. 1, eds R. Spiro, B. Bruce, and
W. Brewer (Hillsdale: Erlbaum), 33–58. doi: 10.4324/9781315107493-4
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 9June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
fpsyg-11-01145 June 22, 2020 Time: 18:0 # 10
Clifton Primals as Mirrors or Lenses
Sarason, I. G., Johnson, J. H., and Siegel, J. M. (1978). Assessing the impact of life
changes: development of the life experiences survey. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol.
46, 932–946. doi: 10.1037/0022- 006x.46.5.932
Seligman, M. E. P., and Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: an
introduction. Am. Psychol. 55, 5–14.
Van der Veer, G. C. (2000). “Mental models of incidental human-machine
interaction,” in Information Systems: Failure Analysis, eds J. A. Wise and A.
Debons (Berlin: Springer), 221–230.
Vernon, M. D. (1955). The functions of schemata in perceiving. Psychol. Rev. 62,
180–192. doi: 10.1037/h0042425
Conflict of Interest: The author declares that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a
potential conflict of interest.
Copyright © 2020 Clifton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or
reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the
copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal
is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or
reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 10 June 2020 | Volume 11 | Article 1145
... In other words, they prefer to verify their existing schema using new information as "evidence" to justify their beliefs or to unconsciously rewrite past memories to achieve further congruence of thought ). This can result in self-fulfilling feedback cycles which contribute to what is called confirmation bias (Clifton, 2020, June 24). For example, if Student A views the world as Just and they perform poorly on a test, they may explain the outcome using specific and temporary reasoning: I should have studied more for the test. ...
... Research findings suggest primals likely function as schemas (Clifton, 2020, June 24), partly because they are orthogonal to demographics (Clifton, 2020, July 7). For example, a survey of 524 Americans-50% women, 50% college graduates-between the ages of 18-75 (M = 37) revealed that family income doesn't correlate with either Abundant or Pleasurable primal beliefs. ...
... One primal study awaiting duplication before being published indicates that students are more likely to view the world as dangerous compared to the general public. Clifton (2020, June 24) notes, "Is this because the student context is a particularly dangerous one-the retrospective explanation? Likely not. ...
Article
Decades of research have demonstrated that beliefs matter, driving people’s emotional responses and, in turn, their behaviors. The recent work of Clifton and colleagues (2019) has significantly advanced the understanding of world beliefs through the development of the primal world belief’s (primals) scale. Primals are highly correlated with personality and well-being variables. Evidence suggests they serve as a schematic lens influencing how people view their experiences of the world. Building on this research, this capstone examines the hidden biases influencing judgment when it comes to the messages parents share with their children about school. Taking a metacognitive approach, the potential for a parent’s beliefs about school to influence their children’s beliefs and, in turn, their children’s mastery are examined, and are considered in the context of mattering. It is possible that parent beliefs could create positive and negative spirals, influencing both student and community outcomes. For this reason, the primals scale was modified to measure (1) student beliefs about school (2) student perceptions of their parent’s beliefs about school and (3) student engagement. Data will be gathered and analyzed over this next year. A positive psychology intervention (PPI) was also created using the modified primals scale to gain a better understanding of the possible underlying mechanisms associated with beliefs and to potentially identify elements of causation. It was also developed to guide parents—alongside their children—to regularly savor the Good in schools. Intended to alter hidden biases and framing beliefs, it is expected to help parents and their children develop a broader base of resources and strategies for support. The intervention is targeted to improve beliefs about school, increase PERMA, and increase mattering, agency, and hope. This analysis suggests there may be opportunities for expanding the role of positive psychology in schools.
... There are many theories about how stable individual differences develop-and sometimes change-across the lifespan (Caspi et al., 2005;McAdams & Olson, 2010;Specht et al., 2014). With regard to belief formation, it is widely assumed that adverse experiences, such as trauma, induce negative beliefs about the world (see Clifton, 2020b;Duckitt & Sibley, 2009;Janoff-Bulman, 1989, 1992Kaler et al., 2008). Such accounts propose that life experiences are a key factor explaining what people believe and are sometimes termed retrospective accounts of belief formation (Clifton, 2020b). ...
... With regard to belief formation, it is widely assumed that adverse experiences, such as trauma, induce negative beliefs about the world (see Clifton, 2020b;Duckitt & Sibley, 2009;Janoff-Bulman, 1989, 1992Kaler et al., 2008). Such accounts propose that life experiences are a key factor explaining what people believe and are sometimes termed retrospective accounts of belief formation (Clifton, 2020b). However, the available empirical evidence supporting this idea is surprisingly mixed (Bonanno & Mancini, 2008;Kaler et al., 2008). ...
... Our hypotheses that the global disruption caused by the pandemic and the individual adversity one experienced as a result would predict negative changes in a person's primals were based on so-called retrospective accounts of belief formation, which postulate that people will update their beliefs in response to substantial changes in the environment and/or individually traumatic events (see Clifton, 2020b;Duckitt & Sibley, 2009;Janoff-Bulman, 1989, 1992Kaler et al., 2008). Our study offers only limited support for such accounts. ...
Article
Full-text available
Introduction: People hold general beliefs about the world called primals (e.g., the world is Safe, Intentional), which are strongly linked to individual differences in personality, behavior, and mental health. How such beliefs form or change across the lifespan is largely unknown, although theory suggests that beliefs become more negative after disruptive events. The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to test whether dramatic world changes and personal adversity affect beliefs. Method: In a longitudinal, quasi-experimental, pre-registered design, 529 US participants (51% female, 76% White) provided ratings of primals before and several months after pandemic onset, and information about personal adversity (e.g., losing family, financial hardship). Data were compared to 398 participants without experience of the pandemic. Results: The average person in our sample showed no change in 23 of the 26 primals, including Safe, in response to the early pandemic, and only saw the world as slightly less Alive, Interactive, and Acceptable. Higher adversity, however, was associated with slight declines in some beliefs. One limitation is that participants were exclusively American. Conclusion: Primals were remarkably stable during the initial shock wrought by a once-in-a-century pandemic, supporting a view of primals as stable lenses through which people interpret the world.
... Evidence supporting this process includes research finding correlations between rumination and PTG (Cann, Calhoun, Tedeschi, Kilmer, et al., 2010b;Eze et al., 2020) as well as correlations between PTG and scores on a validated scale that measures disruption to the assumptive world (Cann, Calhoun, Tedeschi, Kilmer, et al., 2010a;Lindstrom et al., 2011). Additional research has also found measurable differences between the core beliefs of trauma survivors and non-trauma survivors; however, this research has been limited (Clifton, 2020). Measurable differences in primal world beliefs-core assumptions about the nature of the world (Clifton et al., 2019)-among trauma survivors would add support to the theory that changes in the assumptive world provide the mechanism for PTG. ...
... Overall, these studies are not sufficient to confirm that trauma leads to real changes in world beliefs. There are few studies measuring these results, and those that exist suffer from methodological problems (Mancini et al., 2011), often use a scale, the World Assumptions Scale, with reliability and validity that has been challenged (Kaler et al., 2011), and show small effect sizes (Clifton, 2020). Additional research using a scale with improved psychometric properties to (2019), primals are 26 core beliefs about the world as a whole that people may hold to varying degrees. ...
... In a series of six studies involving nearly 3,000 participants, the Primals Inventory, a 99-item scale measuring primal world beliefs, showed high levels of internal reliability, stability across time, and convergent, divergent, discriminant, and incremental validity (Clifton et al., 2019). The lead author introducing the primals construct (Clifton et al., 2019) has questioned whether primals are shaped by experiences or shape individuals' perceptions of their experiences (Clifton, 2020). The measurement of primals in trauma survivors may lead to a better understanding of the role of changes in the assumptive world after trauma as well as the role of world beliefs in shaping the outcomes of trauma. ...
Article
Background. Posttraumatic growth (PTG)—positive changes that people may experience in the aftermath of highly distressing experiences—has been observed in survivors of a variety of events but has not been previously studied among people who have caused accidental death or injury (PCADIs). In addition, questions remain about the role, in PTG, of changes in the assumptive world and the relationships between PTG and distress, personality, and social support. Methods. Participants (N = 528), included PCADIs (n = 44) and a non-trauma comparison group (n = 484), who completed the Primals Inventory and measures of personality, anxiety, and depression. PCADIs (n = 43) also completed measures of PTG, PTG behavioral changes, social support and life satisfaction. Results. Modest levels of PTG commensurate with survivors of other relevant forms of distress were observed. Results demonstrated significant differences between primal world beliefs Good, Safe, Enticing, Just, Regenerative, Funny, and Improvable in PCADIs and non-trauma survivors as well as significant positive relationships between PTG and the primals Good, Safe, Alive, Just, Regenerative, Funny, and Improvable and between PTG and reported behavior changes related to PTG, but no significant relationships were found between PTG and distress, PTG and social support, or PTG and personality traits Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, or Agreeableness (though a significant negative relationship was observed between PTG and Neuroticism). Conclusions. PCADIs may experience PTG that both influences and is influenced by primal world beliefs, but the hypothesized relationships between PTG and distress, personality, and social support were not observed. Additional studies with larger PCADI populations may find these relationships exist at a statistically significant level. And future research should aim to develop interventions addressing the distress and growth potential of this population.
... Knowing the correlations of primals with all character strengths is important because it allows us to design positive psychology interventions that develop specific character strengths through their associated primals. Although primals have been shown to be generally as stable as the Big Five, they should not be considered immutable (see Clifton, 2020b;Clifton et al., 2019). Quite the opposite, the success of programs such as Beck's (e.g., Beck & Alford, 2009;Beck, 1967) cognitive therapy and Dweck and colleagues' (e.g., Dweck, 2017) growth mindset interventions suggests that primals can be changed by targeted intervention. ...
... Third, there is, to date, only sparse evidence that supports the idea that primals can be changed (Clifton, 2020b). Primals may be rather stable lenses through which individuals interpret the world and thus hardly malleable by new experiences. ...
... Primals may be rather stable lenses through which individuals interpret the world and thus hardly malleable by new experiences. For example, one may expect that high income relates to seeing the world as a more abundant place, but this has not been substantiated by empirical data (Clifton, 2020b). On the other hand, we can already look back on literature that documents changes in beliefs that we may now label as primals, such as the findings discussed by Beck (e.g., Beck & Alford, 2009;Beck, 1967) and Dweck (2017). ...
Article
Full-text available
Primal world beliefs–primals–are a category of beliefs about the overall character of the world (e.g., the world is a safe place). Theory suggests that such beliefs drive personality development–or at least reflect personality differences, such as character strengths. We examined the relationships of primals with character strengths among 1122 German-speaking adults. The primary primal good explained the most variance in most character strengths, especially hope, spirituality, zest, gratitude, curiosity, and leadership. Including specific secondary (e.g., safe, enticing, alive) and tertiary primals (e.g., beautiful, needs me, funny) often yielded better predictions, but, with few exceptions, increments were typically smaller than that of the primary primal. We recommend including these primals in positive psychology interventions and describe three couplings of primals and character strengths that may prove especially fruitful for future research and practice.
... Other evidence is conflicting, while longitudinally, the reciprocal cycle of BJW shaping and being shaped by its outcomes appears to be born out (Dalbert & Stoeber, 2006), experimental evidence suggests otherwise . Within the broader worldviews literature, a similar question has been raised about whether beliefs about the general character of the world are best conceptualised as a lens through which we view our experiences (a lens unaffected by our experience), or as beliefs that are formed by our experiences (Clifton, 2020). ...
... However, it is possible that pre-existing and unmeasured aspects of the individual's psychology may determine cross-cultural differences. It may be the case, for instance, that individuals interpret events as evidence of their already established beliefs (see Clifton, 2020). Individual and national tolerance of corrupt behaviour may be a function of the inherent belief that the world is not just and therefore unjust behaviour is to be expected. ...
Article
Belief in a just world (BJW) is theorised to be a universal personality disposition. In this study we contrast this notion with that of Justice Capital, which suggests that BJW varies based on the individual’s justice experience. We achieve this comparison via a psychometric analysis of the BJW scales across cultural and demographic groups. Invariance; equivalence of reliability metrics; differences in latent means; and consistency in construct validity—differential associations with perceived control, hopelessness, and optimism—were analysed across Germany, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, the USA, sex, age, income type, and economic status (n=1250). Findings provide support for both the universality and malleability of BJW. We discuss how these findings advance BJW theorising and their important implications for BJW measurement.
... One step towards designing effective interventions may be addressing meta-beliefs (i.e., beliefs about beliefs) that bolster negative primals. These metabeliefs come in at least two types (Clifton, 2020a). First, retrospective meta-beliefs are assumptions that one has little choice but to hold a negative primal because certain experiences are thought to have irrevocably shaped one's identity (a causality claim) such that most individuals who have the experience share the identity (a probability claim). ...
... While the causality claim is central, the probability claim is likely best examined first because it is readily testable via correlational research and can contribute to interventions capable of testing causality. In this way, several retrospective meta-belief probability claims were recently examined with little support found (Clifton, 2020a). For example, counter to the study subjects quote above, seeing the world as abundant is orthogonal to both childhood socio-economic status as well as current family income. ...
Article
Full-text available
Primal world beliefs (‘primals’) are beliefs about the world’s basic character, such as the world is dangerous. This article investigates probabilistic assumptions about the value of negative primals (e.g., seeing the world as dangerous keeps me safe). We first show such assumptions are common. For example, among 185 parents, 53% preferred dangerous world beliefs for their children. We then searched for evidence consistent with these intuitions in 3 national samples and 3 local samples of undergraduates, immigrants (African and Korean), and professionals (car salespeople, lawyers, and cops;), examining correlations between primals and eight life outcomes within 48 occupations (total N=4,535) . As predicted, regardless of occupation, more negative primals were almost never associated with better outcomes. Instead, they predicted less success, less job and life satisfaction, worse health, dramatically less flourishing, more negative emotion, more depression, and increased suicide attempts. We discuss why assumptions about the value of negative primals are nevertheless widespread and implications for future research.
... One step towards designing effective interventions may be addressing meta-beliefs (i.e., beliefs about beliefs) that bolster negative primals. These metabeliefs come in at least two types (Clifton, 2020a). First, retrospective meta-beliefs are assumptions that one has little choice but to hold a negative primal because certain experiences are thought to have irrevocably shaped one's identity (a causality claim) such that most individuals who have the experience share the identity (a probability claim). ...
... While the causality claim is central, the probability claim is likely best examined first because it is readily testable via correlational research and can contribute to interventions capable of testing causality. In this way, several retrospective meta-belief probability claims were recently examined with little support found (Clifton, 2020a). For example, counter to the study subjects quote above, seeing the world as abundant is orthogonal to both childhood socio-economic status as well as current family income. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Primal world beliefs (‘primals’) are beliefs about the world’s basic character, such as the world is dangerous. This article investigates probabilistic assumptions about the value of negative primals. We first show that such assumptions are common. For example, among 185 parents, 53% preferred very dangerous to slightly dangerous world beliefs for their children. We then searched for evidence consistent with these intuitions in 3 national samples and 3 local samples of professionals (car salespeople, lawyers, and cops), undergraduates, and immigrants (African and Korean; total N=4,535), comparing within 48 occupations. As predicted, regardless of occupation, more negative primals were almost never associated with better outcomes. Instead, they predicted less success, less job and life satisfaction, worse health, dramatically less flourishing, more negative emotion, more depression, and increased suicide attempts. We discuss possible reasons why probabilistic assumptions about the value of negative primals are nevertheless widespread and implications for future research.
... Notwithstanding these limitations, the study results indicate that the BLOW scale is a promising instrument to measure negative cognitions that can be associated emotional distress and problems after job loss. Assuming that these negative cognitions play a role in the development and maintenance of emotional distress following job loss, the It is conceivable that these types of dysfunctional cognitions form the basis of an individual's view of the world, the self, and others (Clifton, 2020). If a person believes the world is a dangerous place to live in and that one should always keep their guard up, there is an increased chance they also possess characteristics of neuroticism (Dweck, 2017 ...
Book
Full-text available
Most people experience low levels of psychological distress after involuntary job loss. However, approximately 18% of people suffer from job loss-related complicated grief symptoms. These grief symptoms are characterised by: difficulty accepting the loss, struggling to "move on", feelings of anger and bitterness, a lack of meaning and identity disruption. The research results show that complicated grief symptoms can be distinguished from depressive and anxiety symptoms after job loss. Important risk factors that play a role in this process are: a strong belief in an unjust world, low self-esteem and frequent use of maladaptive coping strategies. Three core processes are involved in the development and maintenance of these grief symptoms: 1) negative beliefs about the self, the world, the future and others, 2) anxious and depressive avoidance strategies to avoid facing reality, and 3) poor integration of the job loss into the memory, which causes the loss to feel unreal. Failure to recognise and address these complicated grief symptoms can lead to an accumulation of other psychological and practical problems. In addition, resources such as social support, money and self-confidence slowly decrease. This combination of grief and other problems makes it difficult to actively search for another job and to successfully pass the application process. It is therefore important that we, within the minority that experiences high levels of distress after job loss, not only focus on depressive and anxiety symptoms, but also pay attention to the impact of grief in order to identify and treat vulnerable people in time.
... Indeed, human perceptions or general beliefs have been a long-running research topic for psychology and social science, with recent work turning to Twitter, among other sources, to better understand general categories of "primal world beliefs", or "primals". (Clifton et al. 2019;Clifton 2020;Stahlmann et al. 2020). In these studies, primal world beliefs were explored by having experts read through a large collection of texts comprising of sacred texts, novels, speeches, treaties, films text and thoroughly analyze human's major beliefs about the world. ...
Article
Full-text available
How we perceive our surrounding world impacts how we live in and react to it. In this study, we propose LaBel (Latent Beliefs Model), an alternative to topic modeling that uncovers latent semantic dimensions from transformer-based embeddings and enables their representation as generated phrases rather than word lists. We use LaBel to explore the major beliefs that humans have about the world and other prevalent domains, such as education or parenting. Although human beliefs have been explored in previous works, our proposed model helps automate the exploring process to rely less on human experts, saving time and manual efforts, especially when working with large corpus data. Our approach to LaBel uses a novel modification of autoregressive transformers to effectively generate texts conditioning on a vector input format. Differently from topic modeling methods, our generated texts (e.g. “the world is truly in your favor”) are discourse segments rather than word lists, which helps convey semantics in a more natural manner with full context. We evaluate LaBel dimensions using both an intrusion task as well as a classification task of identifying categories of major beliefs in tweets finding greater accuracies than popular topic modeling approaches.
... It is conceivable that these types of dysfunctional cognitions form the basis of an individual's view of the world, the self, and others (Clifton, 2020). If a person believes the world is a dangerous place to live in and that one should always keep their guard up, there is an increased chance they also possess characteristics of neuroticism (Dweck, 2017). ...
Article
Full-text available
Negative cognitions following job loss can contribute to emotional distress by motivating individuals to adopt coping styles that reduce stress in the short run, while obstructing adjustment in the long run. It is unclear which specific cognitions are related to symptoms of complicated grief, depression, and anxiety following job loss. To fill this gap, this study introduces the Beliefs about Loss Of Work (BLOW) scale and examines its psychometric properties. We recruited 222 Dutch workers who had lost their job, including 70 men and 152 women, with an average age of 52.5 years. Confirmatory factor analyses revealed that a second-order eight-factor model had the best fit to the data. The BLOW is a reliable instrument with a good convergent and divergent validity. This instrument may stimulate research on mechanisms involved in job loss-related distress and could inform the development of interventions to reduce this distress.
Article
Full-text available
Beck’s insight—that beliefs about one’s self, future, and environment shape behavior—transformed depression treatment. Yet environment beliefs remain relatively understudied. We introduce a set of environment beliefs— primal world beliefs or primals —that concern the world’s overall character (e.g., the world is interesting, the world is dangerous ). To create a measure, we systematically identified candidate primals (e.g., analyzing tweets, historical texts, etc.); conducted exploratory factor analysis ( N = 930) and two confirmatory factor analyses ( N = 524; N = 529); examined sequence effects ( N = 219) and concurrent validity ( N = 122); and conducted test-retests over 2 weeks ( n = 122), 9 months ( n = 134), and 19 months (n = 398). The resulting 99-item Primals Inventory (PI-99) measures 26 primals with three overarching beliefs— Safe, Enticing , and Alive (mean α = .93)—that typically explain ∼55% of the common variance. These beliefs were normally distributed; stable (2 weeks, 9 months, and 19 month test-retest results averaged .88, .75, and .77, respectively); strongly correlated with many personality and wellbeing variables (e.g., Safe and optimism, r = .61; Enticing and depression, r = −.52; Alive and meaning, r = .54); and explained more variance in life satisfaction, transcendent experience, trust, and gratitude than the BIG 5 (3%, 3%, 6%, and 12% more variance, respectively). In sum, the PI-99 showed strong psychometric characteristics, primals plausibly shape many personality and wellbeing variables, and a broad research effort examining these relationships is warranted.
Article
Full-text available
People's responses to acute stress are largely thought to comprise four prototypical patterns of resilience, gradual recovery, chronic distress, and delayed distress. Here we present evidence of an additional response pattern: psychological improvement. Three-hundred and sixty-eight female survivors of the Virginia Tech shootings completed assessments before the shooting, and at 2, 6, and 12 months post-shooting. Latent growth mixture modeling revealed distinct trajectories of resilience, chronic distress, delayed distress, continuous distress, and improvement. Although resilience was the most common pattern (56 – 59%), a trajectory of substantial improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms also emerged among 13.2% and 7.4% of the sample, respectively. In support of this pattern, improvement was distinctively associated with marked increases in perceived social support and gains in interpersonal resources. Findings suggest a more complex understanding of the impact of mass trauma and a key role for dynamic changes in social support following acute stress. http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/cpx Clinical Psychological Science
Article
Human beings are routinely exposed to varying forms of acute adversity. Our responses take varying forms too, ranging from chronic distress to resilience. Although this pronounced variability is widely recognized, one possible outcome of acute adversity has been invariably, though understandably, ignored: an improvement in psychological and social functioning. In this analysis, I argue that, under some conditions, people can experience marked psychological improvement after acute adversity. I describe this response pattern as psychosocial gains from adversity (PGA) and define it as favorable and reliable change on an index of psychological functioning from before to after exposure to adversity. In the present article, first I distinguish PGA from traditional perspectives on growth after adversity on the basis of key conceptual differences. I then review empirical evidence for PGA as a replicable response pattern following different forms of adversity, including bereavement, military deployment, and mass trauma. I propose a multilevel theoretical model for PGA that focuses on automatic prosocial affiliative behaviors and group-level contextual factors that are conditioned by acute adversity. I describe moderators and boundary conditions at different levels of analysis that will enhance or detract from the likelihood of PGA. I conclude with the implications of PGA for theory and empirical research on postadversity outcomes and outline a research agenda to better understand it.
Article
Understanding the nature of, and how to design, structured experiences has become an increasingly salient topic for academics and professionals over the past two decades. Despite the rise in interest in experiences, the related academic literature is fragmented and often atheoretical. To address this situation, this article presents a framework of experiences—including construct definitions and propositions—to help guide the research and design experiences. The framework considers the realm of all possible experiences from subconscious to conscious and subdivides conscious experiences into ordinary and extraordinary dimensions. The framework further classifies extraordinary experiences as memorable, meaningful, and transformational. The distinction between the classes of extraordinary experiences are based on key characteristics of emotion, discovery, and change.
Article
Drawing on both classic and current approaches, I propose a theory that integrates motivation, personality, and development within one framework, using a common set of principles and mechanisms. The theory begins by specifying basic needs and by suggesting how, as people pursue need-fulfilling goals, they build mental representations of their experiences (beliefs, representations of emotions, and representations of action tendencies). I then show how these needs, goals, and representations can serve as the basis of both motivation and personality, and can help to integrate disparate views of personality. The article builds on this framework to provide a new perspective on development, particularly on the forces that propel development and the roles of nature and nurture. I argue throughout that the focus on representations provides an important entry point for change and growth. (PsycINFO Database Record