Feature Article: Leadership and Worldview: What in the World is a Worldview?

March 2007 / Feature Articles

A Summary of “The Psychology of Worldviews”

Mark Koltko-Rivera
Review of General Psychology, 2004, 8(1), pp. 3-58

rubinKoltko-Rivera imageIn our approaches to exploring the multi-faceted aspects of the subject of leadership, an important developmental concept is that of worldview. This paper seeks to introduce a cogent exploration of this important topic and recommend key questions related to the subject of leadership. When guiding groups toward goals, leaders deal with issues not only of competence, but also personalities and group dynamics. An important component of personality in this context is a person’s implicit worldview.

I offer the following summary of Koltko-Rivera’s sweeping literature review validating the construct ofworldview. This concept is an important part of the developmental theories of Wilber, Graves, Beck and others. A clear definition would strengthen each theory, support communication among them, and inform traditional psychology and related fields.

From another angle, we often assess our own and others’ “reality testing”. We try to be realistic, objective, or truthful, but does our view of reality hold up under scrutiny? I hope that this article will bring useful insights to the inquiry.

Definition of Worldview

Koltko-Rivera (herein K.R.) defines the term:

A worldview is a way of describing the universe and life within it, both in terms of what is and what ought to be. A given worldview is a set of beliefs that includes limiting statements and assumptions regarding what exists and what does not (either in actuality, or in principle), what objects or experiences are good or bad, and what objectives, behaviors, and relationships are desirable or undesirable. A worldview defines what can be known or done in the world, and how it can be known or done. In addition to defining what goals can be sought in life, a worldview defines what goals should be pursued. Worldviews include assumptions that may be unproven, and even improvable, but these assumptions are super ordinate, in that they provide the epistemic and ontological foundations for other beliefs within a belief system (p. 4).

In short, a worldview is “a set of assumptions about reality”, an “organizing principle for perception and behavior”.

K.R. begins with an historical review of hundreds of articles and several books on the subject [I’ve taken the liberty of reorganizing some of the information for a clearer summary]:

Definitions and Qualities of Worldviews (not all authors are cited here):

  1. Positions regarding fate, personal immortality (Jung)
  2. Emotional experiences, partly unconsciously held and formed (Jung)
  3. Cognition and judgment about what can happen from what has happened (Kelly)
  4. “Logical arguments simply bounce off the facts felt and experienced” (Jung)
  5. Worldviews directly affect people’s perceptions, thoughts, choices, volition, values, and actions, (Jung)
  6. They underlie assumptions about causality (Pepper)
  7. They underlie personal philosophies and religions, incl. theogeny (how gods came to be), cosmogony (how the world was created), and teleology (purpose and final cause) (K.R.)
  8. They contain an aspect of improvability and reliance on information from an authority, since it’s impossible to empirically test all of one’s own assumptions (Royce; K.R.)
  9. They are implied or stated in schools of psychology (e.g., psychoanalytic, humanistic, cross-cultural and underlie epistemologies (K.R.)
  10. Broader values or orientations are tied closely with worldviews (Kluckholn)
  11. By implication, theories about worldviews are based in part on theorists’ own worldviews, e.g. constructivism (Kelly) vs. objectivism. Some theories are nomothetic, others ideographic (Kelly) (K.R.).
  12. Worldviews may react to the past or be goal-directed (“telic”) (Kelly)
  13. A worldview may arise out of a mystical experience or altered state (Stace)
  14. In Terror Management Theory, worldviews assuage terror, and when faced with strong opposition to one’s worldview, one clings to it more tightly (Greenberg, et al.)
  15. People are compelled to create meaning in a morally ambiguous world (existentialism, phenomenology, humanistic psychology; in contrast with Freud’s determinism) (K.R., p. 21)
  16. Intersubjectivity involves ways that different worldviews interact (Buber)
  17. Gender differences influence worldviews through moral reasoning, values, and communication patterns (Gilligan, Tannen) [ Values is defined below].
  18. Worldviews powerfully shape affect, cognition, and behavior, especially through values embedded in them (p. 23).
  19. “Culture is antecedent to behavior, that is, that culture forms cognition, affect, and behavior (p. 23).” “Culture” is defined as a shared meaning system (p. 40).
  20. No worldview theory can incorporate every belief and “must be supplemented by a clear understanding of certain existential beliefs held by the person or culture involved (p. 28).”
  21. Worldview is not the only predictor of behavior. Other factors include cognition, personality, etc. (p. 36).
  22. There may be correlations between worldviews and personality types (p. 44).
  23. Some dimensions (views about authority) show correlations with cultural violence (p. 46).

Values and Morals in Relation to Worldviews

“Values have defined as particular sorts of beliefs, specifically, beliefs about certain means or ends of action that are judged as desirable or undesirable (Rokeach; Schwartz & Bilsky)….values that are central to the self, affect, cognition and behavior (Verplanken & Holland). Parallel to the evidence of cultural differences in cognition, there exists a large literature attesting to the existence of ethnic and cultural differences in values (p. 22).”

K.R. does not differentiate morals and values from other components in his listing (e.g., pp. 28, 31). For example, on the dimension of Time, under Behavior (below), he writes, “The Time Orientation dimension refers to the proper temporal focus of behavior…[for example,] tradition and stability are valued…, the present moment is focused on…, and…future rewards and planning are emphasized…(p. 32)”.

Some References Worth Special Mention

Before condensing many worldview categorization systems into his summary tables, he mentions a few worth particular attention. One of the most comprehensive categorizations, written by James W. Sire in his book, The Universe Next Door, includes a wide range of “isms” (e.g., theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, monism, etc.).

Mark Williams (2001) found ten cultural “lenses” in the workplace: assimilationist, colorblind, culturalcentrist, elitist, integrationist, meritocratist, multiculturalist, seclusionist, transcendent, and victim/caretakers.

Holm and Bjorkvist (1996) spent ten years researching worldviews in relation to personality traits, age trends, religion, political events, parental influence, etc. They described 14 worldviews and created an assessment instrument called the World View Inventory.

Wilber’s Integral theory is briefly mentioned as a promising addition for the future: “Each stage of Wilber’s model of consciousness development has a characteristic worldview constructed around differing notions of personal and group identity (Wilber, 1999)…The interest shown in Wilber’s formulations by a wide variety of transpersonal psychologists…suggests that this theory will be important in future formulations of the worldview construct (p. 22).” [Graves, Beck, and Cowan are not mentioned.]

Summary of Findings

K.R. organized the data from his literature review into the following groups ( categories), dimensions, and ( option). He notes that many of the options are not mutually exclusive.

Human Nature:

Moral orientation (good, evil)
Mutability (changeable, permanent)
Complexity (simple, complex)


Agency (volition, determinism)
Determining factors (biological determinism, environmental determinism)
Intrapsychic (rational-conscious, irrational-unconscious)


Knowledge (Tradition, senses, rationality, science, intuition, divination, revelation, nullity)
Consciousness (ego primacy, ego transcendence)


Time Orientation (past, present, future)
Activity direction (inward, outward)
Activity Satisfaction (movement, stasis)
Moral source (human source, transcendent source)
Moral standard (absolute morality, relative morality)
Moral relevance (relevant, irrelevant)
Control location (action, personality, luck, chance, fate, society, divinity)
Control disposition (positive, negative, neutral)
Action efficacy (direct, mystical, indirect)
Interaction (competition, cooperation, disengagement)


Otherness (tolerable, intolerable)
Relation to authority (linear, lateral)
Relation to group (individualism, collectivism)
Relation to humanity (superior, egalitarian, inferior)
Relation to biosphere (anthropocentrism, vivicentrism)
Sexuality (procreation, pleasure, relationship, sacral)
Connection (dependent, independent, interdependent)
Interpersonal justice (just, unjust, random)
Sociopolitical justice (just, unjust, random)
Correction (rehabilitation, retribution)


Scope (universal, relative)
Possession (full, partial)
Availability (exclusive, inclusive)

World and Life:

Ontology (spiritualism, materialism)
Cosmos (random, planful)
Unity (many, one)
Deity (deism, theism, agnosticism, atheism)
Nature-consciousness (nature-conscious, nature-unconscious)
Humanity-Nature (subjugation, harmony, mastery)
World justice (just, unjust, random)
Well-being (science-logic source, transcendent source)
Explanation (formism, mechanism, organicism, contextualism)
Worth of life (optimism, resignation)
Purpose of Life (nihilism, survival, pleasure, belonging, recognition, power, achievement, self-actualization, self-transcendence)

A reading of the article’s text, and an occasional web search, makes it easy to define the above terms clearly, and partial out what Wilberians would see as other lines of development.

Relationships Between Worldview, the Self, and Behavior

In circular fashion, “…the self emits behavior, behavior results in experience, experience molds the self (and one’s worldview, an aspect of the self) (Fig. 2, p. 36).”

The experiencing self processes experience sequentially from stimulus to sensation to acculturation buffer to worldview to perceptual and concept formation (Fig. 3, p. 37).

The acting self moves from impulse to motivation to worldview to agency to social and cognitive processes to acculturation buffer to behavior (Fig. 4, p. 37).

Experiential stimuli: Salient parts of the impinging environment include others’ behavior stemming from similar or different worldviews (Fig. 5, p. 38).

While K.R. doesn’t include the important role of emotions in this model, he separately co-authored a book chapter concluding that emotions have been shown to affect memory, decision-making, problem-solving, and performance on several kinds of cognitive and physical tasks (2004). He also reminds us that this article doesn’t incorporate development (“ontogenesis”) of worldviews, theories of cognition, or the psychology of attitude change.

K.R.’s detailed review provides a basis for the kind of information we might need to account for in a developmental model, especially if we want to synthesize the various integral models with the prevailing academic research.

Summary and Implications

Mark Koltko-Rivera collated the results of a sweeping literature in several fields, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. He created a category system systematizing the components and aspects of worldviews. As a result, we now have a much clearer sense of what a worldview is.

Worldview considerations have an important role in the practice, development and study of leadership. We must consider not only the worldviews of those seeking to exercise leadership, but the worldviews of those they seek to attract as followers and collaborators.

References and Related Readings

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Readers interested in further articles on the worldview construct might find the following of interest:

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2006-2007, Winter). Religions influence worldviews; worldviews influence behavior: Amodel with research agenda. Psychology of Religion Newsletter, 32(1), 1-10. (On-line at http://www.apa.org/divisions/div36/Newsltrs/v32n1.pdf

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2006). Rediscovering the later version of Maslow’˙s hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification. Review of General Psychology, 10, 302-317.

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2006, Spring). Worldviews, families, and grand theories: Strategies for unification in psychology. The General Psychologist, 41(1), 11-14. (On-line at http://www.apa.org/divisions/div1/news/Spring2006/GenPsychSpring06.pdf

Mark E. Koltko-Rivera , koltkorivera@yahoo.com