Caption: Some original members of the primals research team taking a hike together on the Pinnacle and the Pulpit section of the the Appalachian Trail in the Summer of 2014. (Left to right: Alicia Clifton, Taylor Kreiss, Jess Miller, Jer Clifton, Sophia Dominguez, and Isaac Garfunkel)

Ongoing Collaborations

Jer continues to examine primals in collaboration with various researchers including the following:

  • Dr. Willibald Ruch at the University of Zurich on a German version of the Primals Inventory and the primals of humor.
  • Dr. Martin Seligman at UPenn on optimism, among other topics.
  • David Yaden at UPenn and Alice Chirico at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy, on the primals of transcendent experiences.
  • Alicia Clifton at Search for Common Ground, Washington D.C., on the primals of giving.
  • Joshua Baker at Upenn on various topics, including the primals of politics.
  • Ria Chhabra and Chaereen Pak on the primals of 1st and 2nd generation Indian and Korean immigrants to the United States and the impact of family on primals.
  • Natalie Weil and Rachel Mirkin on the primals of law enforcement. 
  • Ida Thomas on the primals of race and low SES in the Bronx.
  • Queenie Lam and Ardita Koka on the primals of success.
  • Christine Moriarty on the primals of millennials.
  • Michelle Garcia on the primals of peakers, flow, mindfulness, and prosociality.

Co-Authors on the Foundational 2018 Primals Paper

Jeremy D. W. Clifton – 1st Author

See Jer’s page.

Joshua D. Baker – 2nd Author

Josh Baker received his BA from Yale and is a year ahead of Jer in the UPenn psychology PhD program. He has strengths in statistical analyses and, among other things, ran all of the exploratory regression models in Study 2 of the paper. He’s interested in judgement and decision making and ways to use small groups to produce more accurate prediction models.

Dr. Crystal L. Park – 3rd Author

Dr. Park at the University of Connecticut was one of the 10 eminent researchers that participated in the 2014 Primals Retreat. There she advocated that Jer and the primals project pursue measurement first. As an expert in measurement as well as the belief literature, she was perfectly suited for the crucial role she played in mentoring Jer, who credits her with his transition from being a complete psychometrics novice to an expert in four years.

David B. Yaden – 4th Author

David Yaden received his BA from Rutgers and is a year behind Jer in the UPenn psychology PhD program. He is also an advisee of Dr. Martin Seligman. David has played an important role in the development of the primals project since 2012, when he was one of Jer’s assistant instructors in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program. David studies transcendent experiences.

Alicia B. W. Clifton – 5th Author

Alicia Clifton is a Senior Manager of Development and Communications at Search for Common Ground, the largest dedicated peace-building INGO in the world. In addition to playing a central role in the conceptual development of the primals project since 2005, Alicia wrote the primals focus group guide, trained the focus group facilitators, and, leveraging her expertise in online communications, was Jer’s primary collaborator on writing items for the Primals Inventory. Alicia and Jer have been married since 2008.

Paolo Terni – 6th Author

Dr. Paolo Terni is a consultant and researcher in Dr. Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab at the University of Pennsylvania with a PhD in philosophy from the University of Milan. Seeking to identify candidate primals while avoiding reliance on explicit statements of likely implicit beliefs, Dr. Terni analyzed the 840 most used adjectives in contemporary American English.

Jessica L. Miller – 7th Author

Jessica Miller received a BA from Houghton College and is currently a PhD student in Clinical Community Psychology at Georgia State University. She was full-time staff on the Primals Project from 2014-2015 where she wrote IRB protocols, oversaw 22 interns, coordinated the 2014 Primals retreat, developed the Primals Archive, analyzed focus group results, edited the 416-page interdisciplinary literature review, and contributed in a  variety of other ways.

Guang Zeng – 8th Author

Guang Zeng is currently a PhD student at Tsinghua University and was the primary point person for the 2014-2015 Tsinghua University partnership that, with Dr. Kaiping Peng, discussed and identified candidate primals in a Chinese context via focus groups, expert interviews, and a scholarly retreat.

Salvatore Giorgi – 9th Author

Salvatore Giorgi is a Senior Data Scientist at the World Wellbeing Project in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He, along with Dr. Andrew Schwartz, identified and grouped candidate primal world beliefs as identified by key phrases from a set of 2.24 billion tweets.

Dr. H. Andrew Schwartz – 10th Author

Dr. Andrew Schwartz is an assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook University and Principal Investigator on the World Wellbeing Project. Dr. Schwartz oversaw the effort to identify candidate primal world beliefs based on Twitter data.

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman – 11th Author

See Dr. Seligman’s page.

Acknowledged Contributors to the Foundational 2018 Primals Paper

In addition to these 11 co-authors, over 60 other individuals mentioned in the acknowledgements volunteered thousands of hours from 2014 to 2018 to produce the foundational 2018 primals paper. Here slightly more detail is provided.

Senior Advisors

Of the ten scholars on the initial advisory team who did not become co-authors, two played an outsized role in the project.

Dr. Carol Dweck became involved in the project in late 2013. She helped Jer draft early typologies, simplify and name primals, commented on items, and drafted instructions for the Primals Inventory. Her own work on beliefs about intelligence and her 2008 and 2017 theory papers also played an important role.

Dr. James Pawelski advised Jer’s Masters capstone in 2013 in which the idea of primals was first fleshed out as a psychological construct. Since then, Dr. Pawelski has been a steadfast advocate for and advisor on the project. Among many useful contributions, one was pushing Jer and the research team to measure the extent to which Primals Inventory scores are affect-driven.

Literature Reviewers

To identify candidate primals from related literatures and gain theoretical insights, five scholars reviewed literature in six disciplines identified at the 2014 Primals Retreat: psychology, philosophy, political science, cultural anthropology, comparative religion, and art history. These reviews were then compiled into a 415-page unpublished manuscript entitled Primals: An Interdisciplinary Review. In addition to Jer who examined psychology and philosophy, reviewers were as follows:

  • Dr. Ron Oakerson holds a PhD in political science from Indiana University and is Davidson Distinguished Professor of Social Science at Houghton College, where he was formerly Academic VP and Dean of the College. He is former senior analyst with the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations and author of Governing Local Public Economies
  • Dr. Andrew Hao was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lauder Institute at The Wharton School and Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Funlayo Wood is a doctoral candidate (ABD) at Harvard University in the Department of African and African American Studies with a primary field in the Study of Religion.
  • Dr. Ian Verstegen is the Associate Director of Visual Studies at UPenn. He is the author of Arnheim, Gestalt and Art: A Psychological Theory (2005), A Realist Theory of Art History (2013) and Cognitive Iconology: When and How Psychology Explains Images (2014), and has edited volumes on the Della Rovere family (2007), and the American philosopher Maurice Mandelbaum (2010).

Chinese Scholars

To gain a non-western perspective, we partnered with scholars at Tsinghua University who conduced focus groups, expert interviews, and hosted a retreat of scholars. In addition to Guang Zeng (8th coauthor above), several other Chinese scholars were involved. These include:

  • Dr. Kaiping Peng is a Psychology Professor at Tsinghua University and UC Berkely with a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has published eight books and more than 100 articles and essays on cultural and social psychology, as well as methodological issues of psychology. According to a recent study, he had been the world most cited social psychologist at the associate professor level until 2007.
  • Dr. Lianghua Cai is a professor at Beijing University and the primary researcher in Chan Buddhism Research Institute of GuangDong Province. He is commonly regarded as a top expert in Confucianism, Daoism, and Chan Buddhism.
  • Dr. Han Ying is another expert in Daoism and famous author. He spent 30 years studying “The Book of Change,” which is regarded as the most important text in Daoism.
  • Yixuan Zhou is a prominent Daoism scholar and most famous for being the youngest visiting scholar ever at both Tsinghua University and Renmin University, arguably the two most prestigious schools in China.
  • Dr. Hong Li is the Director of the Centre for Social Work and Mental Health at Tsinghua University.
  • Dr. ShuShan Cai is the Director of Psychology and Cognitive Science Center at Tsinghua University.
  • Dr. Ge Gao is a professor of Engineering Thermophysics at Beihang University.
  • Zijun Ni is a PhD student at Tsinghua University.
  • Frank Xu is a PhD student at Tsinghua University.


Factor Analysis Consultants

Measuring so many constructs at once with only partial hierarchical structure was a difficult task. In addition to the psychometric expertise of co-authors, these outside experts were consulted.

  • Dr. Willibald Ruch at the University of Zurich, who suggested ipsatization.
  • Dr. Scott Barry Kauffman at UPenn, who emphasized the importance of the 1-factor solution.
  • Dr. Paul McDermott at UPenn, who taught Jer how to conduct factor analysis and commented on results, including the meaning of the 22-factor simple structure.
  • Dr. Kelly Allred at UPenn, who advised on confirmatory factor analyses and structural equation modeling.

Additional Consultants on Lists of Influential Texts

In addition to Dr. James Pawelski and Dr. Paolo Terni, who advised on the selection of philosophical texts to be examined for the primals Archive, two other scholars helped curate the lists of the world’s most influential texts.

Dr. Adam Potkay, Chair of the English Department at the College of William and Mary, advised on the list of the world’s 100 most influential novels.

Dr. Gordon Bermant, a psychology and religion scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, edited our final list of 14 sacred texts

Additional Specialists

Dr. Emlen Metz, now at UC Berkeley, helped edit items for the Primals Inventory and was an engaged thought partner at a variety of stages.

Dr. Caitlin Clements, now a Fulbright Scholar in Sweden at the Karolinska Institute, taught Jer how to conduct a variety of analyses associated with Item Response Theory.

Dr. Annie Roepke, a former advisee of Dr. Seligman, for timely encouragement and advice on the project.

Dr. Mark Koltko-Rivera, well-known psychology of worldview expert, for meeting with Jer and offering advice early on in 2013.


There were 24 interns involved in the project from 2014-2015. Two were involved in focus group research.

  • Neha Kulkarni, then an undergrad at Rutgers, conducted all 10 focus groups among adherents of the world’s four biggest world religions.
  • Tim Jeong, also an undergrad at Rutgers, assisted the focus group research.

The remaining interns worked on projects developing the Primals Archive, in which all instances of the words “everything,” “nothing,” and “life,” were examined in 358 of the world’s most influential texts.

  • Taylor Kreiss, our ‘super intern,’ was our first intern, was with us the longest, spearheaded the project examining the 71 most influential philosophy texts, helped train most of the other interns, and helped establish inter-rater agreement on the Twitter project.
  • Sophia Dominguez
  • Celina Tsu
  • Isaac Garfunkel
  • Seth Schimmel
  • Suzy Kim
  • Stephanie Felt
  • Stephanie Witt
  • Alex Brown
  • Gina Leonardo
  • Faiza Chowdry
  • Colleen Stollsteimer
  • Josh Froberg
  • Glorie Parris
  • Lucy Petroucheva
  • Molly Split
  • Asif Zaarur
  • Ikenna Ugboaja
  • Kyle Carney
  • Julia Spandorfer
  • Olivia Walsh
  • Ben Adams