Initial Advisory Team

Of several top minds that advised at early stages of the primals project, ten met for three days at the University of Pennsylvania in October, 2014 to make plans.

Dr. Alia Crum


Dr. Alia Crum received her PhD from Yale, her BA from Harvard, and is now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford—one of the youngest ever. Her Mind & Body Lab focuses on how mindsets—the lenses through which information is perceived, organized, and interpreted—alter objective reality. Her research has won several awards, including the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize and the William Harris Prize, as well as being featured in popular media outlets.

“Primals, as Jer has defined them, are the most general beliefs of all. As such, they have the greatest potential to assert a biasing influence into our lives, for better or for worse.” – Dr. Alia Crum, 2014

Dr. Carol Dweck


Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University is considered by some to be one of the most influential psychologists alive today. Her research focuses on how to foster success by influencing mindsets. She has also held professorships at Columbia and Harvard, and her bestselling book Mindset has been widely acclaimed and translated into more than 20 languages.

“Beliefs are at the heart of motivation, personality, well being, and much pathology, yet this is not widely recognized. To the extent that studying primals (or core beliefs) can bring this to the fore, it could have a tremendous effect on how we conceptualize and study human nature.” – Dr. Carol Dweck, 2014

Dr. Alan Fiske


Dr. Alan Fiske is Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. He received his BA in Social Relations from Harvard and his PhD in Human Development from the University of Chicago. He worked in tuberculosis control, smallpox eradication, and economic development in Malawi, Congo, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso. He developed relational models theory (RMT) based on a synthesis of classical social theory, ethnology, social psychology, and ethnographic fieldwork. His recent book, Virtuous Violence, suggests that much violence is pursued by a genuine desire to be moral. He voiced a number of important criticisms of primals research. 

Dr. Rob DeRubeis


Dr. Rob DeRubeis was chair of the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania at the time of the 2014 retreat. He has authored more than 100 articles and book chapters on topics that center on depression treatment. He is a recipient of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy’s Aaron T. Beck Award, the Senior Distinguished Career Award from the Society for Psychotherapy Research, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Psychological Science.

“In clinical psychology, we do not adopt a hands-off attitude when one has a belief such as ‘I am worthless.’ We try to help the patient re-evaluate such beliefs, as they lead to poor life outcomes and nearly always are exaggerations or simply untrue. Jer and Marty want to study the belief ‘the world is worthless.’ It’s imperative that we find out if this belief is also connected to poor life outcomes.” – Dr. Rob DeRubeis, 2014

Dr. James Pawelski


Dr. James Pawelski is Professor of Practice and Director of Education in the Positive Psychology Center and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the author of The Dynamic Individualism of William James and the general trade book Happy Together. His current research interests include the philosophical underpinnings of positive psychology and connections between positive psychology and the humanities.

“It appears that most people, most of the time, do not know their primals, even though it seems likely that they influence us in a variety of ways.” – Dr. James Pawelski, 2014

Dr. Crystal Park


Dr. Crystal Park is the 3rd author on the 2019 foundational primals paper. In addition to being a measurement expert and studying the effects of yoga, her research focuses on how certain basic beliefs influence an individual’s ability to cope with traumatic life events. She is associate editor of four journals, Fellow of the American Psychological Association, former president of Division 36 of the APA (Psychology of Religion), and a recipient of their Early Career Award and William James Award.

“I am quite familiar with the literature on those psychological constructs most similar to primals, and can therefore say without reservation that focusing on primals provides an opportunity to explore a fundamental element of human experience that has heretofore been minimally examined. It may be that it is so obvious that psychologists simply overlooked it… This is one of those projects that has great potential for identifying an important piece for what it means to be human.” – Dr. Crystal Park, 2014

Dr. Paul Rozin


Dr. Paul Rozin is a well-known Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for 2007. He was an editor of the journal Appetite for ten years and was a founding director of the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict. Paul’s major research focus has been human food choice, the emotion of disgust, and cultural psychology. He found the notion of primals exciting and concerning. 

Dr. Richard Reeves

Dr. Richard Reeves is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, former director of strategy for the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, and former director of Demos, the London-based political think-tank. He is also the author of John Stuart Mill – Victorian Firebrand as well as many articles, radio programs, and publications on politics and policy.

“There have been a few times in my professional life when an idea came along with that feeling of freshness—like putting one’s spade into genuinely new intellectual soil. This is how I feel about primals. The idea is so basic, so simple, but I really think that is has the potential to do some really good work and influence a wide range of fields.” – Dr. Richard Reeves, 2014

Dr. David Sloan Wilson


Dr. David Sloan Wilson is a professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is an evolutionist who studies all aspects of humanity in addition to the biological world. He manages a number of programs designed to expand the influence of evolutionary theory in higher education (EvoS), public policy (The Evolution Institute), and community-based research (The Binghamton Neighborhood Project). He also communicates to the general public through his trade books including Darwin’s Cathedral (2002), Evolution for Everyone (2007), and Does Altruism Exist? (2015). As of 2014, he was interested in the boundary conditions for the relevance of primal world beliefs. 

“Primals might not describe human and cultural universals. Instead, they might be culturally specific…vital for some cultures but marginal or even absent in others. [This] does not detract from the importance of the concept—especially if primals are found primarily in modern cultures, which are most relevant for improving human welfare in the future.” – Dr. David Sloan Wilson, 2014

Dr. Chandra Sripada

Department of Philosophy photo shoot on Wednesday April 6, 2011.

Dr. Chandra Sripada holds a joint appointment at the University of Michigan in Philosophy and Psychiatry. He works on issues of human mind and agency that connect philosophy and the behavioral and brain sciences. He received his PhD in Philosophy from Rutgers and completed residency training in psychiatry at the University of Michigan.

“I deeply hope that this project continues and that we come to identify these primal world views, measure them, and come to understand how they influence our lives. The results could be extraordinarily useful, not just in psychology, but also for other academic disciplines.” – Dr. Chandra Sripada, 2014

Pics from the 2014 Retreat

The first night at Dr. Pawelski’s house
Dr. Seligman was sick, so we sent him our best wishes!
Some socializing before the group picture.
During the group picture, Alia and Jer made some opinions known. 

Left to right, back row: Dr. David Sloan Wilson (Binghamton), Dr. Paul Rozin (UPenn), Dr. Chris Stewart (Templeton), David Yaden (UPenn), Dr. Richard Reeves (Brookings)

Left to right, middle row: Dr. James Pawelski (PPC), Dr. Alan Fiske (UCLA), Dr. Robert DeRubeis (UPenn), Dr. Chandra Sripada (Michigan), Jess Miller (PPC), Dr. Crystal Park (UConn)

Left to right, front row: Dr. Alia Crum (Stanford), Jer Clifton (UPenn), Dr. Carol Dweck (Stanford)