We tested whether generalized beliefs that the world is safe, abundant, pleasurable, and progressing (termed “primal world beliefs”) are associated with several objective measures of privilege.
Three studies (N = 16,547) tested multiple relationships between indicators of privilege—including socioeconomic status, health, sex, and neighborhood safety—and relevant world beliefs, as well as researchers and laypeople’s expectations of these relationships. Samples were mostly from the USA and included general population samples (Study 2) as well as focused samples of academic researchers (Study 1) and people who had experienced serious illness or trauma (Study 3).
Studies 1–2 found mostly negligible relationships between world beliefs and indicators of privilege, which were invariably lower than researcher predictions (e.g., instead of the expected r = 0.33, neighborhood affluence correlated with Abundant world belief at r = 0.01). Study 3 found that people who had experienced serious illness (cancer, cystic fibrosis) only showed modest differences in beliefs from controls.
While results do not preclude that some individuals’ beliefs were meaningfully affected by life events, they imply that such changes are smaller or less uniform than widely believed and that knowing a person’s demographic background may tell us relatively little about their beliefs (and vice versa).