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Parents think-incorrectly-that teaching their children that the world is a bad place is likely best for them


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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.
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Parents think—incorrectly—that teaching their
children that the world is a bad place is likely best
for them
Jeremy D. W. Clifton & Peter Meindl
To cite this article: Jeremy D. W. Clifton & Peter Meindl (2021): Parents think—incorrectly—that
teaching their children that the world is a bad place is likely best for them, The Journal of Positive
Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.2016907
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Published online: 27 Dec 2021.
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Parents think—incorrectly—that teaching their children that the world is a bad
place is likely best for them
Jeremy D. W. Clifton
and Peter Meindl
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA;
Character Integration Advisory Group, United States
Military Academy, West Point, New York, USA
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 rst 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 ourishing, 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.
Received 3 October 2021
Accepted 4 November 2021
Primal world beliefs; success;
job satisfaction; health;
negative emotions;
depression; suicide; life
satisfaction; wellbeing
I always think everything could be a trap—which is why
I’m still alive.
—Prince Humperdinck, The Princess Bride, 1987
Simple, descriptive beliefs about the basic character
of the world (e.g., the world is dangerous) are important
to study, challenging to study, and historically under-
studied, all for the same reason: the world is a uniquely
large and encompassing object of belief. As previously
argued (e.g., Clifton & Kim, 2020), understanding the
behavior of any given creature requires the scientist to
observe the creature’s behavior in multiple environ-
ments. Scientists who observe a creature in one environ-
ment only, such as a dog in a dog park, are handicapped
observers, unable to distinguish context-specic beha-
viors (i.e., state-like reactions to particular environments,
or at least the creature’s beliefs/perceptions about that
environment) from organism-specic behaviors (i.e.,
trait-like expressions of that creature’s peculiar tempera-
ment). Psychologists, likewise, are handicapped obser-
vers of human behavior, only able to observe humans
while humans are in the world. If humans share highly
similar beliefs about the world, there is no attribution
problem. But if world beliefs vary, these beliefs could
theoretically drive patterns of action that manifest as
traits – neuroticism, optimism, curiosity, attachment
style, trust, political attitudes, and so forth – while actu-
ally being largely reactions to underlying perceptions.
Yet few world beliefs have been studied and no eort
made to empirically derive all major world beliefs and
how they dierentiate themselves statistically.
To address this gap, Clifton et al. (2019) recently
conducted the rst eort to empirically map all major
beliefs about the basic character of the world. They
labeled the latent phenomena primal world beliefs
(‘primals’) to distinguish simple, adjectival, goal-
relevant beliefs (e.g., the world is a dangerous place)
from metaphysical, incidental, or historical world
beliefs (e.g., the world is composed of 118 chemical
elements). The eort began with ten projects aimed at
identifying candidate primals, such as the analysis of
>80,000 tweets beginning with the phrase the world
is and the analysis of >1,700 instances of world
description gleaned from 385 of the world’s most
inuential sacred texts, philosophical treatises, novels,
political speeches, and lms. This led to the identi-
cation of 234 items subjected to three rounds of
CONTACT Jeremy D. W. Clifton
This article is adapted from a dissertation chapter and dedicated to my (JDWC) dissertation advisor, Dr. Martin Seligman, whom this special issue is honoring.
I think he originally brought me on as a PhD student partly because he likes people who disagree with him in interesting ways, but mainly because he saw the
value of primals research very early on. Thank you, Marty, for betting on me. It has been, and continues to be, a great honor and privilege to work with you.
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
factor analysis. As shown in (Figure 1, Figure 2),
results revealed 26 primals (e.g., the world is beauti-
ful, the world is interconnected; Clifton et al., 2019),
most of which group into three clusters. These three
beliefs – informally called the ‘Big 3ʹ are the beliefs
that the world is Safe (vs. dangerous), Enticing (vs.
dull), and Alive (vs. mechanistic), which in turn group
into a general factor: overall Good world belief. These
primal world beliefs are continuous variables, nor-
mally distributed, stable across time, largely orthogo-
nal to demographic variables, and highly correlated
to many personality and wellbeing variables.
The claim about wellbeing correlates, however,
comes with an asterisk. Only one primal – just world
belief had received serious prior attention across psy-
chological subdisciplines (Koltko-Rivera, 2004). This lit-
erature has tied higher just world belief to many success
and wellbeing variables, presumably because of the
expectation that hard work will be rewarded (e.g.,
Bartholomaeus & Strelan, 2019; Dalbert & Stoeber,
2005). For example, Dzuka and Dalbert (2006) found
that senior citizens of East Slovakia enjoyed much higher
life satisfaction when they also saw the world as just, r
(122) = .45, p < .001, and this relationship is even stron-
ger in the general adult population (e.g., r(422) = .57, r
(80) = .67, r(80) = .54, p < .01; Otto et al., 2009). Just world
belief has also been tied to increased health, decreased
depression, and many other wellbeing-related
Do other primals correlate substantially with wellbeing
or is Just world belief special? So far, only two studies have
used the Primals Inventory – the only comprehensive
measure of primals – to examine primals’ wellbeing cor-
relates. Both studies were preliminary, involving few out-
comes or early versions of the Primals Inventory (Clifton
et al., 2019; Stahlmann et al., 2020). Both unearthed mod-
erate to very large correlations with wellbeing worth
exploring further, and many primals correlated with well-
being. Just world belief might not be special.
To explain primals-wellbeing covariance, research-
ers have noted that, consistent with current depres-
sion theory, schema theory, and the success of
established interventions such as Cognitive
Behavioral Therapy, much covariation is likely
explained by primals inuencing wellbeing (Beck,
1964, 2005; Butler et al., 2006; Clifton, 2020b;
Hofmann et al., 2012; Jano-Bulman, 1989;
Stahlmann et al., 2020). Considerable covariance,
however, might also be explained by primals being
indicators or symptoms of outcome variables, not
their cause. For example, seeing the world as
a barren place could lead to depression or be
a symptom of depression. Resolving this key issue
will require the identication of interventions capable
of altering primal world beliefs – perhaps a tall order,
given how fundamental primals appear to be – but
the authors are optimistic.
One step towards designing eective interventions
may be addressing meta-beliefs (i.e., beliefs about
beliefs) that bolster negative primals. These meta-
beliefs 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 irre-
vocably shaped one’s identity (a causality claim) such
that most individuals who have the experience share
the identity (a probability claim). For example, a past
primals study subject commented, ‘I know many of
my opinions [abundant world belief] are biased due
to growing up and currently being very poor. It has
colored my perception of the world and I know of no
way to change that.’ While the causality claim is
central, the probability claim is likely best examined
rst 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 exam-
ple, counter to the study subjects quote above, see-
ing the world as abundant is orthogonal to both
childhood socio-economic status as well as current
family income. Such ndings might help therapists
teach patients and clients to combat counterproduc-
tive retrospective meta-beliefs
While retrospective meta-beliefs concern the past,
prospective meta-beliefs concern the future, speci-
cally a belief’s utility in achieving some desirable out-
come. In practice, desired outcomes may often be the
six outcomes identied in (Table 1, Table 2), based on
anecdotal observations. For example, a police ocer
in one study expressed the view that seeing the
world as dangerous may damage their wellbeing,
but the belief also contributes to workplace success.
Here, too, there are causality claims (my negative
primals make me a better police ocer) and probabil-
ity claims (police ocers with more negative primals
usually perform better). These easily testable probabil-
ity claims remain unexamined, and, as far as research-
ers know, may well be true.
This article examines the probability claims of the rst
three prospective meta-beliefs in (Table 1). After con-
rming that these prospective meta-beliefs are in fact
common (Study 1), we search through six samples,
representing 48 occupation groups (Study 2;
N = 4,535), for instances in which more negative primals
were associated with any of the following eight
job success
job satisfaction
negative emotion
physical health
life satisfaction
overall psychological ourishing
While depression research might suggest that negative
primal world beliefs should correlate with worse out-
comes across the board (Beck et al., 1979; Butler et al.,
2006; Hofmann et al., 2012) there are conicting the-
ories. Life satisfaction, for example, is commonly
understood as a comparative judgment of one’s own
life against a referent, whether social (other people),
counterfactual (what could have been), or personal
(what used to be; e.g., Cheung & Lucas, 2016). If so,
it may be that living a mediocre life in an incredible
world where much more seemed readily achievable is
less satisfying than living the same mediocre life in
a terrible world where one seems highly fortunate.
Likewise, negative primals could well be associated
with more job success, especially among professions
involving low incidence of failure but high cost of
failure, such as police ocers and lawyers.
Concerning health, because seeing the world as dan-
gerous theoretically increases trait vigilance and pre-
paredness, dangerous world belief could lead to
successful avoidance of physical dangers, dangerous
habits, and pathogens, increasing overall health. In
other words, it is reasonable to think that negative
primals are associated with positive outcomes, at
least for some outcomes and in some professional
contexts. If so, establishing the size and direction of
correlational relationships between primals and well-
being variables is not just worthwhile for designing
interventions and increasing scientic knowledge, but
for establishing such interventions as ethical in the
rst place. Before trying to change someone’s most
fundamental beliefs, checking a few correlations is
Table 2. Descriptive statistics for 11 meta-beliefs among 185 parents.
Belief in the helpfulness of seeing the world as . . . M SD SEM Median % <2.5 (interpretation) % <4 Kurtosis α
Safe (vs. dangerous) 3.10 .62 .05 3.07 14% (meaningful) 92% .27 .89
Pleasurable (vs. miserable) 3.57 .75 .06 3.60 7% (insubstantial) 64% .56 .69
Progressing (vs. declining) 2.99 .91 .07 3.00 21% (substantial) 85% .29 .73
Harmless (vs. threatening) 2.44 .87 .06 2.40 53% (majority) 94% −.62 .69
Cooperative (vs. competitive) 3.11 1.21 .09 3.33 32% (major) 65% −.68 .81
Stable (vs. fragile) 2.66 1.10 .08 2.67 41% (major) 83% −.8 .76
Just (vs. unjust) 3.11 .89 .07 3.25 19% (meaningful) 79% .13 .64
Abundant (vs. barren) 3.64 .89 .07 3.67 11% (meaningful) 50% .15 .73
Funny (vs. not funny) 2.90 1.14 .08 3.00 36% (major) 77% −.49 .83
Hierarchical (vs. nonhierarchical) 2.46 1.12 .08 2.50 49% (major) 88% −.59 .76
Improvable (vs. too hard to improve) 3.97 .72 .05 4.00 2% (insubstantial) 39% 1.55 .70
Possible range on meta-belief scores was 0–5. SEM indicates standard error of the mean.
Table 1. Six prospective meta-beliefs purporting the utility of negative primals.
Paraphrased Meta-belief Outcome Anecdotal Sources
‘People usually don’t succeed in my job without a darker view of things.’ Job success Lawyers
Business Persons
‘Seeing the world as some amazing place often leads to disappointment, which can make you
depressed and lose hope – best keep expectations low.’
Negative emotions
(job/life satisfaction,
suicidal behavior)
Car Mechanics
‘Seeing the world as safe where everyone sings “Kumbaya” leaves ou vulnerable to predation, germs,
illness, and death – you gotta stay vigilant.’
Physical health Police Officers
Healthcare Workers
‘Indulging a fantasy rarely helps anyone achieve their goal and the belief that the world is this
wonderful place is a fantasy.’
Perception accuracy Professors
Social Workers
‘f I see the world as positive, I'’ll get judged as naïve, insensitive to eople'’s struggles and a poor
Reputation costs Politicians
‘People who think the world is already good-to-go don’t work as hard to make things better – you
can’t solve a problem without recognizing it.’
Group goals Environmentalists
Religious Missionaries
Study 1: Does anyone associate negative
primals with positive outcomes?
Moving beyond the anecdotal, does a non-trivial portion
of the population actually associate more negative pri-
mals with more positive outcomes? To explore this, we
asked parents what primal world beliefs they aim to
instill in their children, pre-registering hypotheses before
analyses were conducted.
Parents were recruited via a New York City youth
advancement program where their children had
been enrolled. Of 185 subjects (M
= 47 years,
= 8), 84 were black, 52 Hispanic, 17 white,
and the rest mixed or other. Most were mothers
(79%), Democrats (67%), and Christian (64%). Median
family income was $80,000.
To measure prospective meta-beliefs about primals
rather than primals themselves, the Primals Inventory
was adapted. Scale instructions were edited as follows:
Parents have the privilege and responsibility of preparing
their children to navigate the real world—not the world
we wish we lived in, but the actual world as it is now.
Each statement listed below begins with the phrase “I
help my kids when I teach them that . . . ” Please indicate
the extent to which you agree with each phrase.
The stem ‘I help my kid(s) when I teach them . . . ’ then
appeared in large bold font every ve items with ‘ . . . that’
inserted to make items grammatically correct (e.g., . . .
that, on the whole, the world is a safe place). For the sake
of brevity, only 49 of 99 primals items were administered.
These measured twelve meta-beliefs, selected for con-
cerning primals where it was thought some prospective
meta-belief prevalence might be more likely (Safe,
Pleasurable, Regenerative, Progressing, Harmless,
Cooperative, Stable, Just, Abundant, Funny, Hierarchical,
and Improvable).
Because this adaptation of the Primals Inventory was
novel, subscales were examined for internal reliability
before further analysis, removing items whose inclusion
lowered internal reliability more than α = .01. As
a result, one item was removed from subscales measur-
ing Cooperative, Stable, Just, Abundant, Funny,
Hierarchical, and Improvable. Reliability for
Regenerative, however, was too low (α = .50) and
abandoned. We then examined descriptive statistics
and standard error of the mean. For the sake of this
analysis, having a score <2.5 (on a 0 to 5 scale) was
considered as believing in the utility of a negative pri-
mal and having a score <4 was considered as believing
in the utility of avoiding a distinctly positive primal. Our
pre-registered hypothesis was that, for Safe and its
seven associated tertiary primals, the portion of the
population with scores <2.5 would not be insubstantial
(dened as <9.45%) but either meaningful (between
9.45% and 19.45%), substantial (between 19.45% and
29.45%), major (between 29.45% and 50%), or
a majority (>50%).
Many parents believed that instilling negative primals
in their children is the best way to prepare their
children to navigate life, though to varying extents
depending on the primal (Table 2 and Figure 1).
Insubstantial proportions of parents thought that see-
ing the world as too hard to improve (2%) or miser-
able (7%) would most benet their children.
Meaningful, substantial, major, and slight majority
proportions of parents, ranging from 11% to 53%,
expressed the belief that their children would most
benet by being taught to see the world as danger-
ous, declining, competitive, fragile, unjust, barren,
not funny, and full of physical threats. Furthermore,
in all but one instance, a large majority of parents
thought that seeing the world as distinctly positive
was not ideal, even among only those who saw more
value in the positive primal. For example, 92% of
parents thought that seeing the world as safe to
very safe (i.e., scores of 4–5 on a 0–5 scale) is not
best for their children.
Prospecrtive meta-beliefs purporting the utility of
negative primals cannot be a major driver of nega-
tive primals unless such meta-beliefs are also preva-
lent in the population. Study 1 demonstrated some
prevalence by asking 185 New York City ethnic-
minority parents what primals they most want to
instill in their children. Strongly left-skewed score
distributions would have suggested consensus that
more positive primals oer more utility, and vice
versa for right-skewed distributions. What was gen-
erally found, however, were normal distributions,
suggesting disagreement among subjects, with two
points worth highlighting. First, consistent with pre-
registered hypotheses, a substantial number of par-
ents reported a belief that the best way to prepare
children to navigate life was to teach them that the
world is in various ways a bad place: including that
the world is full of physical threats; does not reward
or punish fairly; is rarely that funny; is full of fragile
situations that could easily fall apart; is cut-throat;
and is getting worse. Second, putting aside parents
who see negative primals as most helpful (i.e., focus-
ing only on parents on the right side of the distribu-
tions), in most cases several times more parents
preferred slightly positive primals to very positive
primals. If this result is minimally generalizable,
a moderating approach is likely widespread in
which seeing the world as slightly good is thought
to support positive outcomes, but seeing the world
as very good is too good because very positive
beliefs are associated with less desirable outcomes.
These parents may well be right, at least in some
contexts. Study 2 investigated this.
Figure 1. Primal world beliefs that 185 parents considered most helpful to their children.
Study 2: Establishing primals’ success and
wellbeing correlates
Study 2 examined six samples and 48 occupational
contexts to determine the plausibility of the two
meta-beliefs identied in Study 1. Hypotheses were
pre-registered before two of the six samples were
collected and all analyses conducted. In short, we
hypothesized that the probability claims of these
meta-beliefs would be unsupported. See supple-
ment for more detail on samples, measures, and
Sample 1: AuthenticHappiness.Org
Of 3,925 subjects recruited via AuthenticHappiness.Org,
59% were male, 66% were younger than 45, 63% were
college graduates, 68% were in the USA. Subsets com-
pleted measures of life satisfaction (n = 1,072); physical
health, negative emotion, and psychological ourishing
(n = 1,118); and depression (n = 1,291), doing so on
average 5.2, 1.6, and 3.6 months, respectively, from com-
pleting the primals measure.
Sample 2: YM.Org
Of 1,727 subjects (M
= 34 years, SD
= 14) who
completed the survey on, 69% were
male, 72% reported being in or completing college,
and 74% were in the United States. Demographically
similar subjects completed measures of socio-
economic status (n = 1,639) and life satisfaction
(n = 328), also not concurrently with the primals
Sample 3: MTurk
Of 692 Americans (M
= 36 years, SD
= 11) recruited
through MTurk, 56% were male, 49% married, 61% college
graduates, and 68% white. Subjects completed measures
of personal income (used as a proxy for job success among
the 72% with full-time jobs), health, negative emotion,
depression, life satisfaction, and psychological ourishing.
Figure 2. Seventeen primals with the clearest valence. Note. Figure adapted from Clifton and Kim (2020).
Sample 4: Immigrants
Of 98 non-white American immigrants from West Africa
(n = 45) and South Korea (n = 53) recruited via college
campus yers and social groups, 71% were 2
tion (primarily college age) and 72% female. Subjects
completed measures of negative emotion, life satisfac-
tion, and ourishing.
Sample 5: Philly Pros
Of 110 Philadelphia-area car salespersons, lawyers (pri-
vate practice), and police ocers (M
= 47 years, SD
= 13), 67% were married, 73% were male, and 88% were
white. Subjects completed measures of job satisfaction,
health, negative emotion, attempted suicide, life satis-
faction, psychological ourishing, and detailed job-
specic success outcomes.
Sample 6: Undergrads
Of 473 University of Pennsylvania undergraduates
participating for course credit (M
= 20 years,
= 1), 27% were freshmen, 33% were sopho-
mores, 23% juniors, 17% seniors, 74% female, and
48% white. Subjects completed measures of all eight
Seventeen valenced primals
The Primals Inventory (PI-99) consists of 99 items with 39
reverse-scored (Clifton et al., 2019). Pertinent to Study 2,
however, were only 17 primals with the clearest valence.
Changing (versus static) world belief, for example, can-
not be considered negative or positive for conceptual
and empirical reasons. These 17 include Good world
belief; Safe world belief and its seven associated tertiary
primals; and Enticing world belief and its seven asso-
ciated tertiary primals (Figure 1).
Job success
Across occupations in Sample 2 and 3, a single item
measure of income and socio-economic status was
used as a proxy for job success. In Sample 5 (Philly
Pros) and Sample 6 (undergrads), however, richly
detailed job-specic information was available. For
example, car salesperson success was determined by
a combination of cars sold per month, monthly closing
ratio, monthly commission, rank within dealership, and
salary. Job success for students involved GPA, standar-
dized test scores, and quality and quantity of relation-
ships with peers and professors.
Job satisfaction
Thompson and Phua’s (2012) psychometrically-validated
four-item Brief Index of Job Satisfaction Measure (BIAJS)
is an aective measure about one’s job, not a measure of
objective job conditions or benets (e.g., renumeration).
An example item is I nd real enjoyment in my job and all
items refer to ‘my job’. Responses were collected on
a ve-point likert scale.
Butler and Kern’s (2016) psychometrically-validated
PERMA Proler, used to measure overall psychological
wellbeing, includes a three-item subscale concerning
physical health. An example item is Compared to others
of your same age and sex, how is your health? (0 = ‘terrible’,
10 = “excellent).
Negative emotion
Butler and Kern’s (2016) PERMA Proler includes a three-
item global measure of negative emotion frequency.
Items concern how often one feels anxious, angry,
and sad.
Samples 3 and 6 completed Antony et al.’s (1998), 21-
item Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-21). An
example item is I was unable to become enthusiastic
about anything. Sample 1 completed Radlo’s (1977)
popular 20-item CES-D. Example items include I felt
lonely and I had crying spells. Both scales concern experi-
ences over the past week, probe for various depression
symptoms, use a 4-point likert scale, and have been
validated for nonclinical samples.
Attempted suicide
Osman et al. (2001) Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-
Revised has been validated for nonclinical samples.
Only one item was used because it alone concerned
suicide history: Have you ever thought about or
attempted to kill yourself? Response options were on
a six-point scale.
Life satisfaction
Diener, Emmons, Larsen, and Grin’s (1985) ve-item
Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) has been cited over
25,000 times (Google Scholar, Feb. 2020). It was
designed to measure a global judgment of one’s life
based on one’s own criteria. An example item is In
most ways my life is close to my ideal. Responses were
collected on a seven-point likert scale.
Psychological flourishing
Butler and Kern’s (2016) psychometrically-validated
PERMA Proler measures ve specied dimensions
of psychological ourishing that most humans intrin-
sically value and weighs them equally: positive emo-
tion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and
accomplishment (Seligman, 2011). Scores on the ve
three-item subscales were aggregated into a 15-item
general measure of psychological ourishing. An
example item from the relationships subscale is To
what extent do you feel loved? It uses an 11-point
response scale.
Across samples and within each profession where n ≥ 30,
we examined pairwise Pearson correlations (r) to deter-
mine when lower primals scores (i.e., more negative
beliefs) were associated with more positive outcomes.
In the few cases where outcome measures were skewed,
ordinal, or both (e.g., suicide attempts, job success in
Sample 3), we computed Kendall’s τ b (a non-parametric
test) and then converted to Pearson’s r for cross-sample
comparison. For Sample 5: Philly Professionals, we par-
tialed age and years spent practicing the profession (this
data was not available for other samples), which would
presumably control for generation-related or seniority
To determine whether seeing the world as slightly
positive versus distinctly positive was associated with
greater job success, we conducted t-tests comparing
those with PI-99 scores rounded to 3 to those rounded
to 4 or above, doing so in all occupations where n ≥ 30
for both groups. Subjects averaging 5 (the maximum
score on all primals) were too few to analyze separately.
Despite conducting several hundred analyses, cor-
recting for multiple comparisons was inappropriate for
reasons described by Rubin (2017), O’Keefe (2003), and
Rothmann (1990). These reasons are worth discussing
since all primals-general research – research on any large
category of phenomenon – often involves numerous
statistics. First, multiple comparisons do not change sta-
tistics; Rubin (2017) notes a gambler might buy 100
lottery tickets to increase chances of winning, but this
does not alter the promise (i.e., p-value) of individual
tickets. Second, in this study, hypotheses were pre-
registered. Third, these hypotheses were specic to the
overall pattern of correlates associated with a category –
17 valenced primals – which entails examining many
statistics. If conclusions are conned to the pattern and
not a particular result, the multiple comparison problem
is irrelevant because the analysis allows for (and expects)
a proportion of false positives. (However, to aid
researchers interested in exploring particular relation-
ships, we report signicance thresholds of p < .0001.)
Fourth, many multiple-comparison correction techni-
ques (e.g., bonferroni) are not designed for this sort of
analysis approach involving several thousand analyses,
potentially resulting in large increases in false negatives
(e.g., Rothman, 1990). Fifth, multiple comparison pro-
blems concern p-values and not eect sizes on which
the present analysis largely relies. Sixth, given the size of
Study 2 samples and eect sizes, p-values were often too
small to play a meaningful role in interpreting relation-
ships anyway. Seventh, whereas multiple comparison is
most problematic when examining one sample and
selectively reporting few results of many analyses, here
we are examining all outcomes in multiple samples and
report results of all analyses conducted – cherry picking
is impossible. Nevertheless, because multiple tests of the
same hypothesis do inate alpha levels (Rubin, 2017) it is
important to note that most of the variance in these 17
primals is explained by Good world belief. Therefore, we
encourage moderate caution in the interpretation of
Across six samples – 4,535 subjects involving 48 occupa-
tion groups – negative primals were almost never asso-
ciated with positive outcomes. Of 3,921 total statistics
produced, 1,860 were signicant (p < .05). In just six of
these (.3%), more negative primals correlated with more
positive outcomes, all involving small eect sizes and
small occupationally-dened sub-samples. In the other
1,854 relationships (99.7%), more negative primals cor-
related with worse outcomes, often dramatically worse.
For example, Safe world belief was strongly correlated
with increased life satisfaction across all six samples and
in the vast majority of occupations, including among
jobs where the ability to spot threats are useful, such
as law enforcement. Eect sizes indicated that, generally
speaking, negative primals correlated with slightly less
job success (Table 3), moderately less job satisfaction
(Table 4), moderately worse health (Table 5), substan-
tially increased negative emotion (Table 6), substantially
increased depression symptoms (Table 7), slightly
increased lifetime suicide attempts (Table 8), substan-
tially decreased life satisfaction (Table 9), and dramati-
cally decreased overall psychological ourishing
(Table 10). There was also no empirical support for the
popular moderation approach among the parents of
Study 1. Of the 422 t-tests conducted, there were 297
signicant dierences. In all 297, seeing the world as
very positive was associated with more positive out-
comes than seeing the world as moderately positive.
Job success and job satisfaction. Among the eight
outcomes examined in Study 2, primals were least
correlated with success (Table 3). However, when they
were correlated, the connection was almost always to
positive primals, even among low-failure-incidence and
high-failure-cost jobs where this result is seemingly
least likely (e.g., police ocers). It may well be that in
some professions seeing the world as a negative place
might have benets, but benets are being dwarfed by
known negative consequences of negative global
beliefs (less agreeableness, more introversion, more
suspicion of colleagues, etc.; Rode et al., 2008; Boehm
& Lyubomirsky, 2008). Indeed, in Study 2, negative
primals also correlated with moderately lower job satis-
faction (Table 4), itself a factor known to erode work-
place performance (e.g., Rezvani et al., 2016). Further
research exploring a success-primals connection might
examine some of the larger eect sizes tying success to
certain primals in certain professions, such as
Progressing among entrepreneurs (r = .36) and tea-
chers (r = .41) and the unbelievably strong relationship
tying Funny to salary among a small group of police
ocers (r = .71).
Health. Negative primals, especially dangerous world
belief, correlated with worse health (Table 5). Since
declining health increases real and perceived vulnerabil-
ity to increasingly less severe threats, it may be that poor
physical health causes one to see the world as more
dangerous. But examinations of retrospective meta-
beliefs suggest that primals may generally function
more as lenses used to interpret experience while
being themselves largely uninuenced by those experi-
ences (Clifton, 2020). If so, primals may causally inuence
health through ve recently identied pathways (Clifton
& Kim, 2020). If dangerous world belief increases danger
percepts as theorized, this could result in (pathway 1)
more frequent and acute stimulation of the cardiotoxic
stress axis and (pathway 2) the gene expression pattern
known as the conserved transcriptional response to
adversity, both of which are associated with chronic
and inammation-related conditions including type 2
diabetes and heart disease. Primals such as Improvable
world belief might inuence adherence to healthy beha-
viors (pathway 3), such as exercise. Primals such as
Table 3. Job success’ relationship to 17 primals using Pearson’s r.
Sample 2:
Sample 3:
Sample 5:
Philly Pros
Sample 6:
N1639 476 98 426
Good .22** .10* .09 .24**
Safe .26** .17* .08 .23**
Pleasurable .20** .16* .11 .21**
Regenerative .15** .09 .05 .16*
Progressing .22** .17* .11 .20**
Harmless .24** .20** .10 .12*
Cooperative .16** .09 −.02 .22**
Stable .15** .09 −.03 .12*
Just .16** .12* .15 .14*
Enticing .12** .02 .11 .18*
Interesting .13** .01 .07 .18*
Beautiful .09* −.01 −.02 .16*
Abundant .17** .06 .18 .18*
Worth Exploring .02 .01 .04 .13*
Meaningful .09* .05 .09 .07
Improvable .07* .02 .13 .12*
Funny .03 .09 .05 .06
*p < .05 **p < .0001 Negative relationships are bolded.
Derived from
Kendall’s τ b and then converted to a Pearson’s r.
Table 4. Job satisfaction’s relationship to 17 primals using
Pearson’s r.
Sample 5:
Philly Pros
Sample 6:
N110 473
Good .46** .33**
Safe .38** .30**
Pleasurable .42** .27**
Regenerative .31* .21**
Progressing .37* .31**
Harmless .18 .19**
Cooperative .21* .21**
Stable .20* .11*
Just .38** .17*
Enticing .47** .29**
Interesting .37** .22**
Beautiful .39** .22**
Abundant .37** .22**
Worth Exploring .20* .17*
Meaningful .32* .17*
Improvable .46** .25**
Funny .22* .21**
*p < .05 **p < .0001.
Table 5. Health’s relationship to 17 primals using Pearson’s r.
Sample 3:
Sample 5: Philly
Sample 6:
N1,118 692 110 473
Good .25** .35** .39** .36**
Safe .24** .31** .36** .40**
Pleasurable .24** .32** .42** .36**
Regenerative .20** .26** .33* .35**
Progressing .20** .30** .26* .25**
Harmless .21** .24** .18 .26**
Cooperative .13** .14* .23* .29**
Stable .12** .12* .27* .26**
Just .18** .32** .24* .24**
Enticing .17** .29** .33* .23**
Interesting .12** .18** .22* .19**
Beautiful .14** .21** .20* .17*
Abundant .15** .28** .37* .22**
.07* .22** .14 .14*
Meaningful .13** .19** .32* .19**
Improvable .19** .29** .36** .18**
Funny .08* .15** .08 .10*
*p < .05 **p < .0001.
Regenerative and Just may inuence treatment expecta-
tions, which are known to inuence treatment outcomes
through placebo and other mechanisms (pathway 4).
Finally (pathway 5) primals such as Good and
Meaningful might increase trait optimism and purpose,
which are associated with longevity (Lee et al., 2019) and
resistance to age-related conditions (e.g., Alzheimer’s,
stroke, respiratory disease). Future exploration of the
primals-health connection might use more objective
measures of physical health (e.g., blood pressure) and
automatic physiological responses to threatening but
ambiguous stimuli. These ve pathways are not exhaus-
tive. A sixth pathway, for example, might be through
negative emotion. Study 2 found negative primals mod-
erately correlated with more frequent negative emotion
states (Table 6) and research on similar beliefs, such as
beliefs about one’s partner (e.g., Niehuis et al., 2011) or
abilities (e.g., King, 2016), suggest causality. For example,
a negative primal might contribute to anxiety, which is
connected to negative outcomes, (e.g., poor academic
performance, Liu, 2006), which may in turn perpetuate
negative beliefs in the sort of self-perpetuating cycle
described by Fredrickson (e.g., Fredrickson, 2001). If
entrenched, this dynamic might damage physical health
(e.g., Pressman et al., 2013) as well as mental health.
Negative affect and depression. Indeed, a half-century
of depression research suggests that global beliefs like
primals do not protect the individual from negative emo-
tion, but instead propel the individual towards both
increased negative aect and clinical depression (Beck,
1964, 2005; Beck et al., 1979; Butler et al., 2006; Hofmann
Table 6. Negative emotions’ relationship to 17 primals using Pearson’s r.
Sample 1:
AH.Org Sample 3: mTurk
Sample 4:
Immigrants Sample 5: Philly Pros
Sample 6:
N1,118 692 98 110 473
Good −.44** −.46** −.35* −.42** −.42**
Safe −.43** −.41** −.33* −.48** −.44**
Pleasurable −.42** −.41** −.33* −.50** −.39**
Regenerative −.39** −.39** −.15 −.34* −.31**
Progressing −.29** −.28** −.22* −.33* −.31**
Harmless −.24** −.24** −.34* −.32* −.25**
Cooperative −.33** −.34** −.20 −.39** −.34**
Stable −.32** −.31** −.25* −.40** −.35**
Just −.19** −.17** −.23* −.23* −.24**
Enticing −.35** −.43** −.23* −.26* −.29**
Interesting −.37** −.49** −.30* −.25* −.24**
Beautiful −.24** −.33** −.23* −.22* −.21**
Abundant −.33** −.35** −.15 −.23* −.24**
Worth Exploring −.15** −.27** −.05 .05 −.09
Meaningful −.32** −.49** −.13 −.31* −.25**
Improvable −.31** −.31** −.12 −.27* −.28**
Funny −.17** −.11* −.13 −.06 −.18**
*p < .05 **p < .0001 Bold highlights the one positive relationship.
Table 7. Depression’s relationship to 17 primals using pairwise
Pearson’s r.
Sample 1:
Sample 3:
Sample 6:
N1,291 692 473
Good −.48** −.52** −.49**
Safe −.45** −.40** −.45**
Pleasurable −.49** −.45** −.43**
Regenerative −.40** −.44** −.38**
Progressing −.32** −.26** −.29**
Harmless −.30** −.16** −.21**
Cooperative −.27** −.34** −.29**
Stable −.31** −.25** −.37**
Just −.37** −.22** −.30**
Enticing −.36** −.53** −.39**
Interesting −.28** −.54** −.33**
Beautiful −.23** −.40** −.24**
Abundant −.34** −.42** −.27**
Worth Exploring −.11* −.36** −.23**
Meaningful −.34** −.60** −.41**
Improvable −.36** −.37** −.28**
Funny −.17** −.15** −.21**
*p < .05 **p < .0001.
Table 8. Attempted suicide’s relationship to 17 primals using
Kendall’s τ b converted to Pearson’s r.
Sample 5:
Philly Pros
Sample 6:
N110 473
Good −.20 −.32**
Safe −.25* −.26**
Pleasurable −.20 −.34**
Regenerative −.17 −.17*
Progressing −.30* −.21*
Harmless −.12 −.10
Cooperative −.14 −.12*
Stable −.35* −.15*
Just −.10 −.24**
Enticing −.06 −.27**
Interesting −.11 −.18*
Beautiful .08 −.16*
Abundant −.11 −.23**
Worth Exploring .16 −.09
Meaningful −.15 −.37**
Improvable −.02 −.21*
Funny .07 −.06
*p < .05 **p < .0001 Positive relationships are bolded.
et al., 2012). Beck organized depression-inducing beliefs
into three topics called the Cognitive Triad concerning the
self, the self’s future, and the self’s world. Primals are
a specic subset of the latter, though Beck uses world to
refer primarily to specic people within the individual’s
immediate social environment (e.g., My boss hates me)
and not both the human and non-human world as one
giant place (personal communication, 1 March 2019).
Beck’s depression-relevant beliefs also involve
a particular type of simple, global, current, stable, goal-
relevant, and reaction-normative modier (e.g., negative,
worthless, and uncomfortable, Beck et al., 1979, p. 11).
Primals involve similar modiers – sometimes the same
ones – and Study 2 found robust correlational relationship
between negative primals and depression (Table 7). If
primals do not inuence depression, their special irrele-
vance would require some explanation. Further
exploration of the primals-depression connection might
test the relative impact of a CBT-only condition versus
a CBT+primals module condition on depression and
other outcomes, such as suicide ideation.
Suicide. Suicide is the 17
leading cause of death world-
wide, killing ~800,000 annually, 79% in low- to middle-
income countries (World Health Organization, 2016).
Correlates of suicide include being bullied, bullying others
(Hinduja & Patchin, 2010), and, according to Study 2, some
negative primal world beliefs (Table 8). Among 473 col-
lege students, for example, low Meaningful (i.e., the belief
that the world is a place where most things, situations,
and events likely do not matter) correlated with having
once attempted suicide (r = −.37, p < .0001). Given the
prominence of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (Van
Orden et al., 2010), which holds that the belief that one
Table 9. Life satisfaction’s relationship to 17 primals using Pearson’s r.
Sample 1: AH.Org Sample 2: YM.Org
Sample 3:
Sample 4:
Sample 5:
Philly Pros
Sample 6:
N1072 328 692 98 110 473
Good .43** .52** .49** .42** .55** .54**
Safe .37** .45** .45** .50** .50** .49**
Pleasurable .43** .45** .45** .39** .52** .50**
Regenerative .32** .32** .37** .29* .33* .38**
Progressing .27** .30** .38** .30* .41** .33**
Harmless .24** .32** .36** .46** .29* .25**
Cooperative .22** .27** .23** .45** .34* .35**
Stable .20** .30** .27** .43** .39** .34**
Just .34** .34** .47** .29* .39** .32**
Enticing .37** .42** .37** .21* .49** .47**
Interesting .25** .38** .18** .20* .45** .42**
Beautiful .29** .35** .35** .21* .36* .38**
Abundant .31** .37** .35** .21* .42** .39**
Worth Exploring .15** .16* .20** .00 .22* .31**
Meaningful .28** .36** .24** .03 .47** .31**
Improvable .32** .27** .38** .18 .41** .32**
Funny .26** .16* .26** .22* .20* .22**
*p < .05 **p < .0001.
Table 10. Psychological flourishing’s relationship to 17 primals using Pearson’s r.
Sample 1: AH.Org Sample 3: mTurk
Sample 4:
Sample 5: Philly Pros
Sample 6:
N1,118 692 98 110 473
Good .48** .61** .43** .57** .60**
Safe .39** .50** .41** .45** .51**
Pleasurable .44** .53** .35* .57** .51**
Regenerative .36** .46** .23* .41** .41**
Progressing .27** .41** .25* .33* .32**
Harmless .26** .34** .41** .12 .23**
Cooperative .20** .25** .27* .37** .35**
Stable .21** .25** .35* .31* .36**
Just .39** .49** .28* .40** .40**
Enticing .41** .55** .32* .57** .53**
Interesting .26** .34** .30* .48** .45**
Beautiful .30** .47** .34* .44** .35**
Abundant .35** .49** .28* .56** .41**
Worth Exploring .20** .37** .05 .25* .33**
Meaningful .31** .39** .17 .52** .46**
Improvable .38** .51** .25* .43** .39**
Funny .23** .30** .24* .22* .26**
Sample 4 did not complete the entire PERMA Profiler so combined scores on the positive emotion and relationship subscales were used as a proxy. *p < .05
**p < .0001.
does not belong and is a burden on others leads to
suicidal desire, an exception to Study 2’s analysis plan
was made to examine one of the non-valenced primals.
Needs Me, the belief that the world needs one’s help in
particular, correlated with suicide history in both samples
(undergrads: r(474) = −.31, p < .0001; Philly professionals: r
(108) = −.24, p = .048), and might be worth examining in
future suicide research.
Life satisfaction. Negative primals correlated strongly
with decreased life satisfaction (Table 9). This appears
inconsistent with the view of life satisfaction as
a comparison between one’s life and certain reference
norms, including previous circumstances, counterfac-
tuals, or social comparison (e.g., Cheung & Lucas, 2016)
because, in a terrible world, a mediocre life should be
a great success. Yet other perspectives on life satisfaction
are consonant. A termed bottom-up approach considers
life satisfaction as a general judgment that aggregates
domain-specic judgements while a top-down approach
situates life satisfaction as an expression of a stable per-
son characteristic (e.g., Erdogan et al., 2012). Another
non-mutually exclusive explanation may be that primals
inuence a variety of behaviors which then impacts out-
comes and in turn overall life satisfaction. Still another
explanation is the simpler notion that a sense of satisfac-
tion is elusive in any place perceived as terrible, regard-
less of outcomes or behaviors.
Flourishing. Because life satisfaction judgements rely
on an individual’s own unspecied criteria, individuals
may make these judgements in incommensurate
ways, adding noise, suppressing eect sizes, and frus-
trating comparisons across persons. This can be par-
tially side-stepped by prescribing life domains and
how they are weighted. Seligman’s (2011) denition
of psychological ourishing species ve domains
which are weighted equally in the PERMA Proler’s
aggregated ourishing score. Domains are frequency
of (a) positive emotion and (b) engagement; (c) qual-
ity of relationships; (d) nding meaning in activities
and life direction; and (e) frequency and feelings of
accomplishment. Across persons, groups, and occupa-
tions, Study 2 found that the outcome most corre-
lated with negative primals was decreased overall
psychological ourishing (Table 10).
Measurement error
A meaningful portion of covariance between primals
and these eight outcomes is very likely due to mea-
surement error, especially positivity bias and shared
method-variance. Still, many observed relationships
are too large to be fully explained in this way and
involved consistent dierentiation among primals.
Health, for example, correlated with Safe world belief
among 473 undergraduates at r = .40 and was more
highly correlated than Enticing in all four samples. If,
in addition to belief valence, belief content matters,
covariance is insuciently explained by similar meth-
ods or general positivity. Furthermore, Sample 1 and
2 took measures a few months apart on average. This
likely dampened eect sizes and blunts concerns that
primals are symptoms rather than stable risk factors –
a concern leveled at Beck until the success of
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) settled the issue.
Correlations with suicide were especially interesting
because, while eect sizes were smaller in compari-
son, other outcomes concern concurrent, feeling
states (e.g., depression) and not the lifetime preva-
lence of a discrete event possibly occurring many
years prior. Error due to misremembering is likely
low and the concern that the negative primal is
a symptom of suicide ideation muted, though not
Just world belief not especially correllated
One novel and robust nding of Study 2 is that Just
world belief is not especially correlated to wellbeing
outcomes. It was rarely among either the least corre-
lated that honor most often went to Funny and
Worth Exploring – or most correlated – usually Good,
Safe, and Enticing. Indeed, the discovery that Just
world belief belongs in a supercluster of 21 inter-
correlating primals centered around overall Good
world belief may come to cast much Just world belief
literature in a new light. Presumably, if any one pri-
mal in this supercluster was examined rst and in
connection to a wide array of wellbeing outcomes,
numerous substantial correlational relationships
would surface that were not attributable to variance
(or causal mechanisms) specic to that primal. Thus,
future research faces the task of sorting previously-
found correlates of Just world belief into two boxes:
those uniquely relevant to Just and those uniquely
relevant to other primals in the supercluster, which in
most cases will presumably be overall Good world
belief (Clifton, in press). For example, Just world
belief has been tied to physician-adjudicated recovery
from myocardial infarction (Agrawal & Dalal, 1993),
but general Safe world belief, which usually correlates
with Just around r = .65, may be more relevant,
suggesting subtle but theoretically meaningful dier-
ences in cognitive frames at play.
General discussion
Study 1 helped establish that seeing more utility in
negative primals than positive primals is common. This
was done by asking 185 parents which primals they
thought would best serve their children. Results
revealed two notable meta-beliefs. First, for most pri-
mals, a sizeable minority of parents – in one case
a majority – reported that the best way to prepare
their children to navigate life was to teach them the
world is in various ways a bad place, specically that it
is dangerous, unfair, rarely funny, unstable, cut-throat,
and getting worse. Secondly, looking at only those who
saw the greatest value in positive primals, clear majori-
ties of parents saw less positive primals as better for their
children than more positive primals. One parent volun-
teered a rationale for this popular moderation approach-
ing: I don’t want my children to have so much fear that
they’re afraid to get out there and try stu, but I do want
them to be cautious and not trust people and situations
blindly. In this line of thinking, positive primals are help-
ful but distinctly positive primals make one naïve and
vulnerable. The popularity of this moderation approach
is also interesting because, despite surging interest in
positive psychology over the past few decades, the value
of moderately positive beliefs relative to very positive
beliefs is underexamined. Relevant work on positive
illusions usually nds net benets of very positive beliefs
(e.g., Taylor & Armor, 1996). If therapeutic strategies to
address an individual’s darkest primals fail, maybe tar-
geting primals that are already fairly positive is most
promising, unless of course very positive primals are
actually damaging illusions.
When might very positive primals be damaging illus-
tions (i.e., associated with negative outcomes)? Study 2
was a big-net search for these contexts. We examined
eight outcomes, six samples, 4,535 unique subjects, and
48 occupations (n ≥ 30), including lawyers, doctors, police
ocers, professors, and so forth. This unearthed 1,860
signicant correlations between primals and outcomes,
and the overall pattern was clear. In 99.7% of these rela-
tionships, more negative primals were associated with
worse outcomes, roughly categorized as slightly less job
success, moderately less job satisfaction, much less life
satisfaction, moderately worse health, much increased
frequency of negative emotion and other depression
symptoms, dramatically decreased psychological ourish-
ing, and moderately increased likelihood of having
attempted suicide. We also found no empirical justica-
tion for the popular moderation approach. In 297 of 297
signicant dierences in outcomes, those who saw the
world as somewhat positive always experienced worse
outcomes than those who saw the world as very positive.
In sum, a robust correlational relationship exists between
more negative primals and more negative outcomes, even
when comparing positive beliefs to positive beliefs, even
when comparing within occupation. The seemingly wide-
spread meta-belief that associates negative primals with
positive outcomes is unsupported.
If so, why are these meta-beliefs so common? Why are
parents aiming to teach beliefs to their children that seem
more likely to hurt them than help them? We see two
clues, the rst in the optimism literature. Though opti-
mism correlates with positive outcomes, common sense
and empirical research suggest high optimism can lead to
problems in certain domains, such as when a pilot is doing
a nal equipment check before a ight (e.g., Forgeard &
Seligman, 2012). The proposed solution is exibility and
domain selectivity to avoid a totalizing pattern (Seligman,
1991; Armor & Taylor, 1998). For similar reasons, indivi-
duals might believe that highly positive primals preclude
exibility and can at times led to disaster.
The second clue lies in the diversity of primals them-
selves, which, like meta-beliefs, are normally distributed.
Individuals may implicitly dene relatively narrow bands
of belief content within which ‘reasonable’ people can
disagree. Then, recognizing some utility in being as
positive as reason permits, position themselves near
the upper limit of those bands, resulting in seeing pri-
mals more negative than one’s own as more reasonable
compared to primals that are more positive than one’s
own, which would appear more totalizing and inex-
ible – like a Bayesian prior that refuses updating despite
clear evidence. Parents would of course not wish unrea-
sonable and debilitating beliefs on their children.
Yet Study 2 clearly shows that very positive primals
cannot be debilitating. The hundreds of Study 2 subjects
who saw the world as very safe, for example, did not
achieve increased success, health, and wellbeing by stum-
bling through life in a positive haze, unable to perceive,
anticipate, or respond to threats. Thus, we propose
a category mistake is being made. Primals are not beha-
viors, but beliefs, and, as beliefs about general character
only – the world’s traits not states – much interpretive
exibility is inherent. Consider, for example, non-
world trait beliefs such as Jill is a liar and Jack is an extrovert.
As trait claims, those holding such beliefs are not expected
to believe that Jill never tells the truth or that Jack has
never been quiet at a party. Instead, these beliefs are
thought to inform a context-dependent posture towards
Jack and Jill that not just allows but expects numerous
exceptions. In this way, primal world beliefs are trait beliefs
about the universe that entail no totalizing thinking. To
explore this further, researchers might examine whether
extreme primals are associated with losses in interpretive
exibility or accuracy in split-second decision making.
In presenting a clear pattern of results, Study 2 also
suggests subtler implications for intervention research
by raising questions about the world itself – not just
beliefs about it. Charnov (1976) proposed Marginal
Value Theorem to describe optimal foraging strategies
when food is in patches and a forager must spend time
travelling between patches. In short, foragers should
leave patches ‘when the marginal capture rate in the
patch drops to the average capture rate for the habitat’
(p. 132). Now, imagine a researcher did not know the
average capture rate of a habitat, but did know creature
dierences in both expected average capture rates and
forager outcomes. If so, comparing creature outcomes to
creature beliefs should shed some light on actual envir-
onmental conditions. In humans, the average capture
rate for the habitat is roughly equivalent to Abundant
world belief, a facet of Enticing. Study 2 results suggest
that higher Abundant scores are linearly tied to positive
outcomes, suggesting that, seemingly no matter how
high Abundant scores get, even higher scores are asso-
ciated with improved outcomes, suggesting the world
may be objectively a fairly abundant place. If so, the
same logic applies to other primals. For example, if it is
benecial to recognize dangerous situations as danger-
ous, but seeing the world as dangerous is associated
with much worse outcomes, then perhaps the world is
not so dangerous. Another possibility, however, is that
the accuracy of primal world beliefs is largely divorced
from their utility. But if so, then either (a) the world is
a good place or (b) the world is a bad place but there’s
little utility in seeing it that way. In either case, indivi-
duals (and therapists) might benet from a benign
agnostic utilitarianism that encourages the adoption of
positive primals without fearing indelity to ‘true’ primal
world beliefs.
While Study 1 aimed to shed light on the prevalence
of a phenomenon, the sample and primals examined
were selected for likely prevalence, thus limiting
generalizability. In particular, subjects were mostly
black and Hispanic and therefore racially unrepre-
sentative of the broader USA population. In Study
2, t-tests are a statistically crude way of establishing
linearity between primals and positive outcomes at
the upper levels and larger samples of subjects with
more unusually high scores are needed. In two sam-
ples, measures of socio-economic status or personal
income were used as proxies for job success and are
arguably poor proxies. Because the current interest
was identifying trends across primals, samples, and
outcomes, no correction was made for multiple com-
parisons, which limits the generalizability of any one
relationship despite pre-registration and replication
(see above discussion). Previous literature connect-
ing just world belief to increased victim-blaming and
less prosociality (e.g., Benson & Ritter, 1990; Sakallı-
Uğurlu et al., 2007) should serve as a reminder that,
outside these eight outcome variables, future
research may yet nd undesirable correlates of posi-
tive primals. All studies rely on self-report. Finally, it
bears repeating that correlational results like this do
not allow causal inference. The probability claims of
meta-beliefs were examined, not causal claims,
though perhaps some guardrails exclude the most
extreme causal claims. For example, seeing the world
as safe has a debilitating eect on health cannot be
accurate – Prince Humperdinck is more likely to
remain alive despite thinking everything is a trap
than because of it.
Concluding remarks
Above studies show that many parents seek to teach
negative primals to their kids, associating negative pri-
mals with better life outcomes, but these associations do
not hold. Across samples, work professions, and out-
comes, negative primals were nearly always correlated
with net negative outcomes, often strongly. Those with
more negative primals were less healthy, suered more
frequent negative emotion states, were more likely
depressed, were more likely to have attempted suicide,
were much less satised with their lives, and enjoyed
dramatically less psychological ourishing, all while dis-
liking their jobs and being slightly worse at them com-
pared to peers in their profession. These ndings on
prospective meta-beliefs, combined with recent work
on retrospective meta-beliefs, now lay the groundwork
for dynamic experimental approaches capable of chan-
ging primal word beliefs by disputing seemingly the two
main meta-beliefs that reinforce negative primals: ”I
have to see the world as a bad place because of what
I'’ve been through (retrospective) and because it helps
me (prospective)”. In the meantime, as primals research
exploring causality continues, parents – including the
authors – might consider pausing any well-meaning
eorts to teach negative primals to children. After all,
children too cannot escape the world. The only choice
that they or any of us have is the power of deciding our
attitude towards being here.
Disclosure statement
The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not
reect the position of the United States Military Academy, the
Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense. All
human subject research approved by the UPenn IRB (#828675).
Jeremy D. W. Clifton
Peter Meindl
Data availability statement
The data described in this article is not publically available. If
interested, please contact rst author.
Open scholarship
This article has earned the Center for Open Science badge for
Preregistered. The materials are openly accessible at https://osf.
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Supplementary resource (1)

... Many studies have pointed out the positive impact of belief in a just world on adolescent development, including lower levels of internalizing and externalizing problems (Liu et al., 2020) and higher levels of life meaning and psychological resilience (Tian et al., 2022). In addition to the belief in a just world, studies with adults as participants have found that different dimensions of good world beliefs also have predictive effects on psychological and behavioral outcomes (Stahlmann et al., 2020;Clifton & Meindl, 2022;Stahlmann & Ruch, 2022). However, there is currently no research on the role of good world beliefs in the psychological development of adolescents. ...
... According to the sample analysis of mediation effect (Fritz & MacKinnon, 2007) and the effect size of good world beliefs on other variables in prior studies (Stahlmann et al., 2020;Clifton & Meindl, 2022;Stahlmann & Ruch, 2022), the present study expected a sample size of 404. ...
... However, Clifton et al. (2022) found that in the process of parenting, parents tend to make their children believe that the world is more negative. This study suggests that this type of parenting style, which leads children to "build defensive walls against the world" may have negative consequences, such as lower good world beliefs, lower self-esteem, and higher internalization problems. ...
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Significance Optimism is a psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes. Previous studies reported that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely. Our results further suggest that optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond. These relations were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, and alcohol use). Overall, findings suggest optimism may be an important psychosocial resource for extending life span in older adults.
Over the past 50+ years researchers have dedicated considerable effort towards studying the belief in a just world (BJW). A significant development in the field was the introduction of the bidimensional model, which indicates differential outcomes for the belief in a just world for the self (BJW-self) when contrasted with the belief in a just world for others (BJW-general). Theorizing and research on BJW-general is well-established. However, the distinction between the two spheres, and specifically the unique characteristics and correlates of BJW-self, are not yet widely acknowledged by researchers. Therefore, we present a review of the BJW-self literature, in three parts. First, we outline the fundamental tenants of justice motive theory and the chronology of BJW-self research. Second, we discuss the notable relationships that have emerged from this literature, in particular the links between BJW-self and wellbeing, coping with negative life events, prosocial behaviours, and a positive future orientation. Finally, we suggest avenues for future research and theoretical advance.
The way individuals think about their intelligence (i.e., implicit theories of intelligence) powerfully shapes learning processes. However, not much is known about how implicit theories of intelligence are associated with subjective well-being. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between implicit theories of intelligence and subjective well-being as indexed by life satisfaction, positive affect, and (low levels of) negative affect. Study 1, a cross-sectional study, showed that entity theory of intelligence was negatively associated with life satisfaction and positively associated with negative affect. Study 2, a cross-lagged longitudinal study, showed that implicit theories and certain dimensions of subjective well-being were reciprocally related. Time 1 entity theory positively predicted subsequent negative affect, while Time 1 positive affect was negatively associated with T2 entity theory. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.