A Psychologist Explains The Power Your Worldview Has On Your Life

The strength of your character might have roots in your beliefs about the world.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 21, 2022

A new study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology shows that having a positive 'primal' worldview, i.e., viewing the world as a safe, enticing, and purposeful place, has a strong link with character strengths like hope, gratitude, and curiosity.

"Recent theories have hypothesized that primal world beliefs are catalysts of personality differences and development – and that 'primals' can help us understand why humans differ or change in their attitudes, emotional dispositions, and typical behaviors," explains psychologist Alexander Stahlmann of the University of Zurich.

Stahlmann explains that primal world beliefs are organized in a hierarchical model, meaning that humans think about the world in grades of abstraction. The most abstract or general primal is the belief in a good (vs. bad) world. Secondary primals that feed into the primary category include believing that the world is a:

  • a safe (vs. dangerous) place,
  • an enticing (vs. dull) world, and
  • is alive (vs. mechanistic)

There are also more than 20 tertiary primals, such as believing in a world that is regenerative (vs. degenerative), stable (vs. fragile), just (vs. unjust), and so on.

For instance, an individual who views the world as a good place (primary primal) might do so because they also view it as an enticing place (secondary primal) as a result of believing that the world needs and values them and their efforts (tertiary primal).

Stahlmann's study examined the co-occurrence of primary, secondary, and tertiary primals with character strengths such as zest, hope, and curiosity in a sample of 1100 German-speaking adults.

The researchers found a strong connection between positive primals and the following character strengths:

According to him, these results have the potential to make believing in a good world a prerequisite for developing character strengths. In other words, becoming more hopeful, enthusiastic, and appreciative might hinge on seeing the world as a beautiful, interesting, and safe place.

For anyone who wants to change their worldview in a positive way, Stahlmann shares the following suggestion:

"Everybody can see some degree of beauty in the world (an important tertiary primal for believing in a good world), but some may believe that this beauty is confined to treasured places or memories," he says. "Developing positive primals means gradually extending confined beliefs to the whole world. This development may be achieved through anything that helps people realize that beauty is all around them and always has been there, no matter the historical period or what the future may hold."

Stahlmann recommends reading travel blogs, learning from people from other cultures, and studying historical accounts as a few ways to expand the scope of one's positive world views.

"Primals research is just starting to gain momentum, but it bears the potential to help us better understand, and maybe steer, personality development," says Stahlmann. "Knowing these relationships is important because it will allow us to design positive psychological interventions that may develop character strengths by developing their corresponding primals."

A full interview with Alexander Stahlmann discussing his research can be found here: The way you view the world might just be your superpower