Mind & Body

Take the Primals Inventory to Measure Your Beliefs About the World

A dapper little cricket once said to "let your conscience be your guide." But how exactly is your conscience guiding you? A team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania identified 26 cardinal beliefs that they say guide how you live and interact with the world. Learn more about these beliefs, then take the quiz at the bottom of the article to get an inside look at your outlook.

What Are Primals?

We've all heard the adage about seeing the glass as half empty or half full. Some people assume everything will turn out all right, while others are always looking at how things could go wrong. Some people feel fine walking alone at night; others won't even get into an Uber until they've asked the driver a litany of safety questions. These individual differences are what the Primals Inventory was designed to assess: basically, how do you feel about the world?

"Primals" is the researchers' shorthand for "primal beliefs," or the convictions you hold at the core of your being about big questions like "Is the world a good place?" and "Does everything happen for a reason?"

The scientists set out to identify a set of cardinal beliefs shared around the world by analyzing important texts, reviewing academic research, and conducting focus groups with representative samples of the world's four major religions. The team then held retreats in the U.S. and China for prominent thinkers and researchers to help narrow down the list and see which beliefs could be clustered together. After 75 drafts and input from 55 researchers from around the world, they ultimately ended up with a set of 26 core beliefs.

The four main categories for the primal beliefs are:

· Good, which measures your level of optimism

· Safe, which measures your level of vigilance

· Enticing, which measures your curiosity and appetite for exploration

· Alive, which measures your search for grander meaning in life

Most of the remaining beliefs are structured in a hierarchy below these main categories, with the exception of five: interconnected, understandable, acceptable, hierarchical, and changing. The researchers found that those beliefs were mostly independent of any other categories.

In 2019, they published their results in the journal Psychological Assessment. Overall, the team showed that primal beliefs can have a huge influence on a person's behavior and that they vary greatly from person to person — even people who are related or were raised in similar environments. They also discovered that people's primal beliefs remained stable over time and seemed to dictate how they lived their lives. If this all sounds eerily similar to the idea of personality, you're onto something. The researchers say that primal beliefs may explain many of the differences between people's personalities.

So, what about you? How does your outlook on the world affect your personality?

The Quiz

The Authentic Happiness website from the University of Pennsylvania has three versions of the Primals Inventory. Depending on how much time you have, you can take the full, 100-question inventory that scores you on all 26 primal beliefs; the 19-question abridged version that measures the overarching beliefs of Safe, Enticing, and Alive; and the seven-question "micro" version that looks only at what the scientists say is your "single most important primal," your level of Good. To start any of these questionnaires, you'll first need to create an account, which includes some demographic information.

In all three versions, the researchers ask you to respond to statements like "Most things in the world are good" or "In life, there's way more beauty than ugliness" on a six-item Likert scale ranging from "Strongly Agree" to "Strongly Disagree."

On the results page, you'll be scored on a scale of zero to five on each primal and you'll get an explanation of what your score says about your worldview. The results will also show how your score compares to others in your age group, your zip code, and your educational level, among other categories.

As with any online quiz, take your results with a grain of salt. The scientists acknowledge there's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation here, as it's unclear whether your primal beliefs influence your personality or whether your personality is what shapes your primal beliefs. And there's no judgment: If your score shows that you believe the world is inherently bad, the researchers aren't saying that there's anything wrong with that. At the very least, this quiz will hopefully lead you to do some introspection and examine the core beliefs that guide you through life. Let your primals be your guide!

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: Sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Learn more about positive psychology in "Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment" by Martin E.P. Seligman. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Steffie Drucker July 26, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.