Selected Recipients of the Primals Research Student Awards

Primals Research Student Awardees

RFP closed May 27, 2022.

Project Title: The Primals of Extraordinary Altruism

PI: Paige Amormino, PhD Student, Georgetown University

Abstract: In 2021, 473 U.S. citizens were saved from death by donations from unrelated, anonymous, living kidney donors. Understanding the motivations of extraordinary altruists is the first step in promoting prosocial behavior, yet the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We will investigate how primals influence altruism in six rare populations of extraordinary real-world altruists, including organ donors. We will then utilize a beauty appreciation intervention targeting these primals to increase altruism in the general population.

Project Title: Primals’ Impact on the Interpretation of Ambiguous Social Situations

PI: Thomas Botch, PhD Student, Dartmouth College

Abstract: Primal world beliefs are a promising framework for characterizing reliable dimensions that drive idiosyncratic processing and interpretation. This research will leverage two-person dialogues to understand how primals frame individual interpretations within ambiguous situations. We will use these stimuli to build a computational account of how primals interact with contextualizing information, presented along a primal axis (e.g., safe vs. dangerous), to elucidate the features that influence divergent appraisals and reappraisals of naturalistic information.

Project Title: Primals and Adaptive Hormonal Function

PI: Tikal Catena, PhD Student, University of California Santa Barbara

Abstract: Hormone levels coordinate behavioral and physiological responses to our perceived environment, but the precise cues responsible are difficult to quantify due to the high complexity of environmental inputs. Primals, being stable trait measures, can more easily indicate embodied environmental expectations, potentially clarifying individual differences in hormone function. Basal cortisol and Safe world belief are both associated with trait anxiety, yet the hormone’s association with Safe has not been tested. Our work will explore the link between Safe and Enticing world beliefs, circulating cortisol, and cortisol reactivity.

Project Title: Altering Primals with a Single Time-Point Intervention

PI: Nadia Kako, PhD Student, University of Denver 

Abstract:  Given that primals and many mental health conditions involve thought patterns affecting perception of the self and the world, shifting primals could have key impacts on mental health and overall well-being. I will test the effects of two distinct single time point interventions on a sample that endorses primals associated with anxiety, and the interventions’ effects on clinical and affective outcomes. I will then compare the effects of each intervention and examine whether primals are malleable to these theoretically driven interventions.

Project Title: The Impact of Primal Beliefs on Daily Emotional Experience

PI: Ashish Mehta, PhD Candidate, Stanford University

Abstract: Our emotions powerfully shape a wide range of life outcomes, including our psychological, social, and physical health. But what determines our emotions? Theoretical work places beliefs as a core input to the situational appraisals that inform emotions, but empirical work on this link has been hampered by the lack of a framework within which to study beliefs. We will use the primals framework and a Bayesian network model of empirical data to develop and test a theory of how beliefs shape emotions in a 3-step process: (1) primals guide situation-specific beliefs; (2) situation-specific beliefs shape appraisals; (3) appraisals determine emotions.

Project Title: Is a Meaningless World Easier to Destroy? Examining the Role of Meaningful World Belief in Violent Extremism

PI: Dr. Daniel Snook, Postdoctoral Researcher, NYU Abu Dhabi

Abstract: One common explanation for Violent Extremism (VE) is extremists’ specific ideological beliefs (e.g., White race superiority), however, these beliefs do not generalize across ideologies. Primals fill a critical gap in VE research, as world beliefs that are general enough to apply across different ideologies, like those of far-right, far-left, and Islamist extremists. Exploratory studies show that Meaningless world belief is consistently associated with support for VE among activists of various ideologies. This project will expand on these findings by testing for causality in this relationship and by examining primals among people known to have committed actual violent extremism—convicted terrorists.

Project Title: Can Changes in Primal World Beliefs Impact Optimism?

PI: Hasan Siddiqui, PhD Candidate, McMaster University; Isaac Kinley, PhD Candidate, McMaster University; Dr. Matthew Berry, Postdoctoral Fellow, McMaster University

Abstract: Recent proposals suggest many of our differences could be less of a matter of innate dispositions than of divergent primal world beliefs, in which case changes in primals may affect variables conventionally thought to be stable dispositions. We will test this empirically by delivering a web-based intervention aimed at increasing Good world belief. We will then examine whether this changes self-reported optimism, and whether the process of changing primal world beliefs can be detected in subtle changes in attention toward negative stimuli.