Investigating Generational Worldview Differences in Immigrant Families

Picture of graphs on a computer screen.




Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology; Director, Positive Psychology Center

Project Summary

Approximately 2,500 years ago, Buddha noted: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world” (Byrom, 1976/1993, p.1). Today, we see this insight phrased in popular truisms such as: “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” or “we all see the world differently.” Unfortunately, this insight—that human cognition and behavior are significantly influenced by beliefs about life and reality—has been relatively understudied in contemporary psychology research (Koltko-Rivera, 2004). Though self beliefs, such as those studied by Aaron Beck (1989) in his research on the etiology of depression and cognitive behavioral therapy, have been examined, environment beliefs remain relatively understudied (Chen et al., 2016).

A category of environment beliefs, known as primal world beliefs or primals, was introduced in a recently published paper (Clifton et al., 2018). Primals are beliefs that concern the world’s overall character rather than particular things within it; they are only the beliefs that are about everything (e.g., the world is interesting, the world is good) (Clifton et al., 2018). Clifton and colleagues produced the Primals Inventory (PI-99), a psychometrically strong measure that might help researchers understand the world from each individual’s perspective. Research using the PI-99 suggests primals vary considerably from person to person, remain stable over large periods of time, and are highly predictive (Clifton et al., 2018).

This research study seeks to better understand the influence of primals by investigating primals in intergenerational immigrant families. Specifically, we want to assess if there are statistically significant differences between the primals of first-generation parents and second-generation children in West African, Indian, and Korean immigrant families. We hypothesize that first generation immigrants will see the world as more unjust, hierarchical and dangerous than will second generation immigrants. If any significant differences do indeed exist, we want to see how these might relate to family relationship satisfaction and life satisfaction. In answering these questions, we can also get a better understanding of how primals differ across 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, and how they vary across different ethnic groups.

Our research experience thus far has been a series of trials and tribulations, as is understandably the case for many research projects. Participant recruitment started out unsuccessful, as it was challenging to persuade entire immigrant families to spend time taking a 30 minute survey for no incentive. Upon receiving the grant, we found more success with recruitment, as we were able to offer a small monetary incentive for completion. After participant recruitment was completed, we discovered that because we didn’t have a large amount of data collected from entire families (2 parents and 1 child), we might not be able to find any statistically significant data when comparing primals within families. As such, we shifted our focus more towards differences between first- and second- generation Korean, Indian, and West African immigrants. Currently, we are conducting our statistical analysis and working on our final paper. We’re excited to see what results we find!