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Friday, March 18, 2022

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

J. D. W. Clifton & Peter Meindl (2021)
The Journal of Positive Psychology
DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.2016907

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.

From the General Discussion

When might very positive primals be damaging illusions (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 officers, professors, and so forth. This unearthed 1,860 significant correlations between primals and outcomes, and the overall pattern was clear. In 99.7% of these relationships, 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 flourishing, and moderately increased likelihood of having attempted suicide. We also found no empirical justification for the popular moderation approach. In 297 of 297 significant differences 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 widespread meta-belief that associates negative primals with positive outcomes is unsupported.