Penn, Temple Religion Trust Invite Proposals for Research on ‘Primal’ World Beliefs

Humans can make broad, often conflicting statements about the world’s basic qualities. Heraclitus and Parmenides debated whether the world was defined by change. Buddhism teaches life is suffering (The 1st Noble Truth). Westley from The Princess Bride agrees: "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." King Solomon teaches "Everything is meaningless." Salman Rushdie disagrees: "Nothing is without meaning." Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel "the outside world is dangerous" to keep Rapunzel in her tower. Rapunzel leaves anyway because she agrees with Coldplay ("We live in a beautiful world") and Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes ("There's treasure everywhere"). Today, world generalizations pepper social media (e.g., "The world is a shithole, overflowing with garbage and disease").

While many of these statements are likely mere expression, might some point to something deeper? For example, seeing a habitat as barren (vs. abundant) is thought to impact key forager decisions about when to leave a food patch in search of greener pastures — leaving too early or late can impact caloric intake and reproductive success (Charnov, 1976). But psychologists have not studied the belief that the world is abundant, nor many other world beliefs, usually preferring beliefs about topics within the world instead. For example, Beck (e.g., 1979) organized depression-inducing beliefs into three topics: the self, the self's future, and the self’s world (the Cognitive Triad). Yet by intention and in practice, world here concerns persons in one’s social environment (e.g., "My boss hates me"; personal communication, March 1, 2019). Janoff-Bulman (1989) suggested humans have world schemas, but the few beliefs she identified a priori overlap conceptually and empirically (e.g., Kaler, 2009). Koltko-Rivera’s (2004) seminal review of worldview research discusses dozens of beliefs about freewill, God, and so forth, but only one about overall "world nature" called belief in a just world.

With the aim of promoting empirical research that explores how such primal world beliefs ("primals") are formed, maintained, change, or influence non-trivial outcomes or psychological processes, the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, with support from the Templeton Religion Trust, has announced the Primals Research Awards. Through the program, the center will awar a single grant of $250,000 and two grants of $125,000, to be administered over twenty-four months (July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2024) to principal investigators interested in examining primals through the lens of any of eight disciplinary ("topic") perspectives: clinical, positive, health, organizational, political, personality, social, or developmental psychology.

To be eligible for an award, principal investigators must have a PhD and be in a contracted faculty position at an accredited college or university (exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis). The competition is international. Only one proposal will be accepted per principal investigator.

Letters of Intent (two pages maximum) are due September 26. For the formal announcement, evaluation criteria, and background information on primals and the eight topic areas, see the Penn Positive Psychology Center website.

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Deadline: May 01, 2021