Jeremy “Jer” D. W. Clifton

Jeremy D. W. Clifton received a PhD in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania studying with Dr. Martin Seligman (advisor), Dr. Angela Duckworth (committee chair), and Dr. Rob DeRubeis. His primary research area concerns primal world beliefs, with a secondary focus on measurement. Publications include the 2019 Psychological Assessment article introducing primal world beliefs that was recently featured in the Washington Post and a 2019 Psychological Methods article on tradeoffs between validity and reliability. He is currently Senior Research Scientist at the UPenn Positive Psychology Center, Director of the UPenn Primals Project, chair of the Primals Research Awards Steering Committee, and teaches research methods in the UPenn Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program.

Longer Bio

Jer spent the first eighteen years of his life in Taiwan and Hong Kong as the child of Baptist missionaries. Houghton College offered Jer its top merit-based scholarship, and he completed a BA in Philosophy there in 2007. During college, Jer first conceived of and wrote a manuscript about primals, which he refined over the next seven years while working in the non-profit sector.

As an AmeriCorps community organizer and Housing Director at small nonprofits in Buffalo, New York, Jer coordinated urban neighborhood turnarounds. Highlights include starting a homeownership program, a philosophy club for gangsters, and a refugee soccer league as well as co-creating a theory of neighborhood renewal with Dr. Ron Oakerson and input from Dr. Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Laureate. Using this theory, Jer invented a neighborhood improvement contest called Curb Appeal that became a replicated Habitat for Humanity best practice. In 2011, Jer joined the CEO’s office at Habitat’s global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia as a strategic planner. There he created the structure Habitat adopted for their global 2014-2018 strategic plan, “Building Impact,” and subsequently managed the national planning process for Habitat Sri Lanka. While in Atlanta, Jer also experienced momentary fame after rescuing a passenger on the subway tracks.

By 2013, Jer’s manuscript on primals had been rejected by sixty publishers and his literary agent had also struck out. However, while earning a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, Jer realized that primals might be studied empirically, and indeed, a handful already had been. Jer wrote a 2013 Master’s capstone that systematically identified thirteen primals that might be conducive to well-being. This work attracted funding from Templeton and resulted in Jer being taken on as a PhD student under one of the most celebrated psychologists alive today, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman.

In October of 2014, Jer convened ten top scholars to plan and think through the next decade or so of primals research. Over the next four years, researchers looked through hundreds of the most influential texts in the history of the world, analyzed millions of tweets, conducted a dozen focus groups, and so forth to identify candidate primals. They then administered hundreds of questions to a few thousand people across nine samples, including two-week, nine-month, and nineteen-month test-retests, and analyzed results via sophisticated clustering techniques. Over seventy researchers were involved.

In 2019, eleven co-authors wrote up and published the results in Psychological Assessment, the top psychology measurement journal. Alongside a five-hundred-page online supplement, this paper introduces twenty-six primal world beliefs, suggests the potential for sweeping theoretical implications, and identifies eight priority areas for further primals research, including clinical, positive, and developmental psychology. The authors conclude as follows:

Broadly speaking, human action may not express who we are so much as where we think we are, and much of what we become in life—much joy and suffering—may depend on the sort of world we think this is.

Jer expects primals to be his life’s work.


CV

(Updated May 2021)

Education

Ph.D., Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 2020,

          Dissertation Committee:        

               Dr. Martin Seligman (advisor)

               Dr. Angela Duckworth (chair)

               Dr. Robert DeRubeis

Masters of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 2016, GPA 3.90

Masters of Applied Positive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 2013, GPA 3.95

Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy, Houghton College, 2007, Magna Cum Laude, GPA 3.72

 

Publications

Psychology Peer-Reviewed Articles

Clifton, J. D. W., & Yaden, D. B. (2021). Brief measures of the four highest-order primal world beliefs. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0001055

Graziosi, M., Yaden, D. B., Clifton, J. D. W., Mikanik, N., & Niemic, R. M. (2020). A strengths-based approach to chronic pain. Journal of Positive Psychologyhttps://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2020.1858337 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2020). Happy in a crummy world: Implications of primal world beliefs for increasing well-being through positive psychology interventions. Journal of Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2020.1789703

Clifton, J. D. W. (2020). Testing if primal world beliefs reflect experiences—At least some experiences identified ad hocFrontiers in Psychology, 11, 1145. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01145

Stahlmann, A. G., Hofmann, J., Ruch, W., Heinz, S., & Clifton, J. D. W. (2020). The higher-order structure of primal world beliefs in German-speaking countries: Adaptation and initial validation of the German Primals Inventory (GPI-66). Personality and Individual Differences, 163, 110054. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110054

Clifton, J. D. W., & Kim, E. S. (2020). Healthy in a crummy world: Implications of primal world beliefs for health psychology. Medical Hypotheses, 135, 109463. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2019.109463

Clifton, J. D. W. (2019). Managing validity vs. reliability trade-offs in scale-building decisions. Psychological Methods. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/met0000236

Clifton, J. D. W., Baker, J. D., Park, C. L., Yaden, D. B., Clifton, A. B. W., Terni, P., Miller, J. L., Zeng, G., Giorgi, S., Schwartz, H. A., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2019). Primal world beliefs. Psychological Assessment, 31(1), 82-99. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0000639

Non-Psychology Articles

Oakerson, R. J., & Clifton, J. D. W. (2017). The Neighborhood as Commons: Reframing Neighborhood Decline. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 44, 411-450. https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ulj/vol44/iss2/5

Clifton, J. D. W. (2014). Review of the eudaimonic turn: Well-being in literary studies. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 24(1), 123-124. https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2014.906180

In Press

Clifton, J. D. W. (in press). Measuring primal world beliefs. In W. Ruch, A. B. Baker, L. Tay, and F. Gander (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology assessment. European Association of Psychological Assessment Book Series.

Submitted

Clifton, J. D. W., & Kerry, N. (2020). Conservatives do not see the world as more dangerous and decades of research suggesting otherwise can be explained [Manuscript submitted for publication]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Clifton, A. B. W., Stahlmann, A. G., Hofmann, J., Chirico, A., & Clifton, J. D. W. (2020). Improving cross-cultural equivalence through scale-specific translation guides: An example case of the Primals Inventory [Manuscript submitted for publication]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J. D. W., & Meindl, P. (2021). Parents intuit—incorrectly—that teaching their children that the world is a bad place is likely best for them. [Manuscript submitted for publication]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

In Prep

Crum, A. J. & Clifton, J. D. W. (2021). The Future of Belief Research. [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, Stanford University. 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2021). Hierarchy Theory: A New Way of Understanding the Centuries-Old Clash Between Conservatives and Liberals [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2021). Which beliefs could explain personality? [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2021). Twelve tests whether primal world beliefs are reflections or projections [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J.D.W., & Yaden, D. B. (2021). What is the world? [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2021). The primal world beliefs of law enforcement [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Ganz, A. B., Rolnik, B., & Clifton, J. D. W. (2020). Initial experimental evidence of the role of primal world beliefs in shaping depression symptoms and psychological wellbeing [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Genetics, School of Medicine, Stanford University.

Clifton, A. B. W., & Clifton, J. D. W. (2019). Guts: Reevaluation of long-term goals and rapid reorientation towards new ones [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2021). The evolutionary origins of primals: The capacity for flexible primal world beliefs as a signature human adaptation [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. 

Clifton, J. D. W. (2018). The utility of groupthink and disutility of ‘individualthink’ [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Clifton, J. D. W. (2018). A more balanced and comprehensive life experiences checklist based on the Cube Framework [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Yaden, D. B., Graziosi, M., Clifton, J. D. W., Newberg, A. B. (2018). A short form measure of spiritual experiences. [Manuscript in preparation]. Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

 

Grants

Co-Principle Investigator. (2021-2024). $1,999,621. The Primals Project: Seeding Catalytic Investigations in Psychology. Templeton Religion Trust, #0298

Co-Principle Investigator. (2014-2015). $199,610. Planning a Primals Research Program. Templeton Religion Trust, #0049.

 

Conference & Lab Presentations

Clifton, J. D. W. (September, 2021). “Parents intuit—incorrectly—that teaching their children that the world is a bad place is likely best for them.” Invited paper presentation. Annual Congress of the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT). Online due to Covid.

Clifton, J. D. W. (September, 2021). “Funding opportunity in emerging research on primal world beliefs.” Invited poster. Annual Congress of the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT). Online due to Covid.

Clifton, J. D. W. (August, 2021). “Emerging research on primal world beliefs ripe for the application of big data language analysis, especially concerning wellbeing, parenting, race, history, and politics.” Invited departmental colloquium. Department of Psychology. Chinese University of Hong Kong. Hong Kong, Chinese Special Administrative Region.

Clifton, J. D. W. (August, 2021). “Parents intuit—incorrectly—that teaching their children that the world is a bad place is likely best for them.” Invited paper presentation. 11th Biennial Intentional Meaning Conference of the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM). Online due to Covid.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July, 2021). “Primal world beliefs: Origins, politics, and wellbeing.” Invited class lecture. Stanford University. Stanford, CA.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July, 2021). “Introducing primal world beliefs—And a new theory trying to explain unexpected correlations with political attitudes.” Invited departmental colloquium. Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology. University of Cologne. Cologne, Germany.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July, 2021). “Conservatives do not see the world as a more dangerous place than liberals and decades of research showing otherwise can be explained.” Invited data blitz presentation. The 7th Biennial Conference for the Association for Research in Personality (ARP). Online due to COVID.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July, 2021). “Primal world beliefs: Introduction to an emerging research Space.” Invited paper presentation. Summer of Hope 2021 Wellbeing Conference. Swansea University. Swansea, Wales. *Award for Best Conference Presentation* Online due to COVID

Clifton, J. D. W. (July, 2021). “Funding opportunity in emerging research on primal world beliefs.” Invited poster. International Society for Social Justice Research 18th Annual Conference (ISJR). Online due to COVID.

Clifton, J. D. W. (June, 2021). “Primal world beliefs: An emerging research area.” Invited paper presentation. Life Improvement Science 2021 Conference (LIS). Online due to COVID.

Clifton, J. D. W. (June, 2021). “Funding opportunity in emerging research on primal world beliefs.” Invited poster. 16th Annual International Congress of Behavioural Medicine (ICBM). Glasgow, Scotland. Online due to COVID.

Clifton, J. D. W. (May, 2021). “It’s Official: Emerging Research on Primal World Beliefs Finally Ripe for the Application of Big Data Language Analysis, Especially on Wellbeing, Parenting, Race, History, and Politics.” Invited lab talk. Human Language Analysis Beings (HLAB)/Andrew Schwartz’s Lab. Stony Brook University. Stony Brook, NY.

Clifton, J. D. W. (May, 2021). “Do Primals World Beliefs Count Among Human’s Deepest Beliefs?” Invited lab talk. The Deepest Beliefs Lab/Kurt Gray Lab. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Clifton, J. D. W. (May, 2021). “If Primal World Beliefs Activate Values, We’d See the Values, but not the Beliefs.” Invited lab talk. Ariel Knafo lab. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Israel.

Clifton, J. D. W. (April 2020). “How Devious Scale-builders (Like Me) Exploit Trade-Offs Between Reliability and Validity to Notch Impressive Alphas When Nobody’s Looking.” Invited virtual colloquium. Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development. Tufts University. Medford, Massachusetts.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July 2019). “Which Beliefs (if any) Could Theoretically Explain Personality and Wellbeing?” Invited talk. The Wellbeing and Resilience Center. South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. Adelaide, Australia.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July 2019). “Happy in a ‘Shithole’ World: Personality and Wellbeing Implications of Primal World Beliefs.” Invited departmental talk. Ethics and Wellbeing Hub. The University of Melbourne. Melbourne, Australia.

Clifton, J. D. W. (July 2019). “Happy in a ‘Shithole’ World: The Wellbeing Implications of Primal World Beliefs.” Invited conference presentation. The 6th World Congress on Positive Psychology. The International Positive Psychology Association. Melbourne, Australia.

Clifton, J. D. W. (January 2019). “How Might Primals Relate to Personality?” Invited lab talk. Dr. Luke Smile’s Personality Processes Lab. The University of Melbourne. Melbourne, Australia.

Clifton, J. D. W. (December 2018). “The Primals of Wellbeing.” Invited webinar. Certificate of Applied Positive Psychology Program. The Flourishing Center. New York, NY.

Clifton, J. D. W. (November 2018). “Identifying Beliefs Central to Personality and Well Being.” Invited feature workshop and session co-chair [cancelled], scientific committee member. 7th International Conference. National Institute of Psychology. Islamabad, Pakistan.

Clifton, J. D. W. (September 2017). “Primals as Paradigm.” Invited presentation. Leverage Research. Oakland, CA.

Clifton, J. D. W. (January 2017). “The Pragmatic Value of Primal World Beliefs.” Invited presentation. American Philosophical Association Annual Conference, Baltimore, MD.

Clifton, J. D. W. (April 2014). “Primal World Beliefs: An Introduction.” Invited presentation. Stanford University. Stanford, CA.

Clifton, J. D. W. (November 2014). “The Neighborhood as Commons.” Invited presentation. The International Association for the Study of the Commons. Bologna, Italy.

Clifton, J. D. W. (March, 2014). “Primal World Beliefs Research.” Invited presentation. University of Pennsylvania Fox Leadership Program. Philadelphia, PA.

Clifton, J. D. W. (February, 2011). “Neighborhood as Commons.” Invited speaker and session leader. National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual Conference. Buffalo, NY

 

Popular Press

Traditional Media

Schinnerer, J. (2021, in press). An interview with Dr. Jer Clifton on primal world beliefs. Evolved Caveman podcast. https://theevolvedcaveman.com

Smith, E. E. (2020, January 22). Open-minded about mindsets: Latest research reexamines how your beliefs powerfully shape your life. Jewish World Review. http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0120/mindset.php3

Newsela. (2019, October 23). Scientists claim their study of world beliefs can help people get along. Newsela. https://newsela.com/read/world-exciting-terrifying/id/2000000062/

Newsela. (2019, October 23). As Shakespeare said, the world is neither “good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Newsela. https://4.files.edl.io/8466/05/16/20/195347-5b62e999-ded1-4c22-82c3-7da936073bbc.pdf

Pawlicki, R. (2019, October 15). Fearing for those who live in fear. Savannah Morning News. https://www.savannahnow.com/opinion/20191015/robert-pawlicki-column-fearing-for-those-who-live-in-fear

Pawlicki, R. (2019, October 15). Fearing for those who live in fear. Athens Banner-Herald. https://www.onlineathens.com/opinion/20191015/robert-pawlicki-column-fearing-for-those-who-live-in-fear

Smith, E. E. (2019, October 8). Beliefs about the world can shape a psyche. Sarasota Herald Tribune. https://www.heraldtribune.com/entertainmentlife/20191008/beliefs-about-world-can-shape-psyche

Smith, E. E. (2019, October 6). World ‘is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so’: So what, then, are your primal thoughts about the world? Knowing can ease your path. Star Tribune. http://e.startribune.com/Olive/ODN/StarTribune/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc= MST%2F2019%2F10%2F06&entity=Ar02202&sk=B89DBA34&mode=text&fbclid=IwAR0ZiKoXG8-s60vkk6kIm-Peio4US4D5_CWoL5aUCl97aXnwyDNsFQS4vt8

Smith, E. E. (2019, October 2). Is the world an exciting or a terrifying place? Your answer can powerfully shape your life and your political views, new research says. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/10/02/is-world-an-exciting-or-terrifying-place-your-answer-can-powerfully-shape-your-life-your-political-choices-new-research-says/

McQuaid, M. (Host). (2019). How do you see the world? Podcast with Jeremy Clifton. Making Psychology Work. https://www.michellemcquaid.com/podcast/see-world-podcast-jeremy-clifton/

Kall, R. (Host). (2018, December 7). Jer Clifton primal world beliefs. Rob Kall Bottom-up Show.

Hernandez, N. (Host). (2017). Interview with Jer Clifton. Community Matters. Radio show on KZUM.

Non-traditional Media Events

Clifton’s 2016 informal post “The Primal World Beliefs of Trump Supporters” on a personal blog went viral, peaking at 10,000 hits a day, with media outlets such as the Huffington Post picking it up (https://jerclifton.com/2016/08/17/what-reality-are-trump-people-living-in/)

Clifton’s 2011 role in a subway rescue was caught on video (unrelated to research). The story garnered over 17 million online and TV views. National TV appearances include the Dr. Drew Show and Fox & Friends (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFXdlIvZmVs).

 

Teaching

Co-Lead Instructor. (Fall 2020). MAPP-601: Research Methods and Evaluation (graduate course). Masters of Applied Positive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

Teaching Assistant. (Fall 2018). PSYC-001: Introduction to Experimental Psychology (undergraduate course). Lead Instructor: Andrew Ward. University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

Teaching Assistant. (Spring 2018, Fall 2016). PSYC-001: Introduction to Psychology (undergraduate course). Lead Instructor: Daniel Swingley. University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

Teaching Assistant. (Spring 2017). PSYC-170: Social Psychology (undergraduate course). Lead Instructor: Sophia Moskalenko. University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

Masters Thesis Advisor. (2018). Intentions: The beginnings of an empirically derived typology (advisee: Jennifer F. Beatty). Masters of Applied Positive Psychology. University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

Masters Thesis Advisor. (2018). Generational shifts in the moral and political landscape (advisee: Christine L. Moriarty). Masters of Applied Positive Psychology. University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

Assistant Instructor. (Spring 2014). MAPP-710: Humanities and Human Flourishing (graduate course). Masters of Applied Positive Psychology. University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

 

Professional Experience Prior to Graduate School

Strategic Planner. (2012). Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka. Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Strategic Planning Support. (2011-2012). Habitat for Humanity International. Office of the CEO. Global Headquarters. Atlanta, Georgia.

Director of Volunteer & Nonprofit Engagement (2011). House of the Rock. Atlanta, GA.

Director of Housing. (2009-2010). Westminster Economic Development Initiative. Buffalo, NY.

Community Organizer. (2007-2009). AmeriCorps VISTA, Houghton College, Buffalo, NY.

Firefighter. (2005-2007). Houghton Volunteer Fire Department. Houghton, NY.