Introduction to the Values Theory

When we think of our values, we think of what is important to us in our lives (e.g. security, independence, wisdom, success, kindness, pleasure). Each of us holds numerous values with varying degrees of importance. A particular value may be very important to one person, but unimportant to another. A level of consensus regarding the most useful way to conceptualize basic values has emerged gradually since the 1950’-s. We can summarize the main features of the conception of basic values implicit in the writings of many theorists and researchers1 as follows:

The Values Theory defines values as desirable, trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serves as guiding principles in people’s lives. The crucial content aspect that distinguishes between values is the type of motivational goal they express. In order to coordinate with others in the pursuit of the goals that are important to them, groups and individuals represent these requirements cognitively (linguistically) as specific values about which they communicate. Ten motivationally distinct, broad and basic values are derived from three universal requirements of the human condition: needs of individuals as biological organisms, requisites of coordinated social interaction, and survival and welfare needs of groups.

The ten basic values are intended to include all the core values recognized in cultures around the world. These ten values cover the distinct content categories found in earlier value theories, in value questionnaires from different cultures, and in religious and philosophical discussions of values. It is possible to classify virtually all the items found in lists of specific values from different cultures2, into one of these ten motivationally distinct basic values.

Schwartz [Sch92] [Sch94] [Sch05a] and Schwartz and Bilsky [Schb90] describe the derivations of the ten basic values. For example, a conformity value was derived from the prerequisites of interaction and of group survival. For interaction to proceed smoothly and for groups to maintain themselves, individuals must restrain impulses and inhibit actions that might hurt others. A self-direction value was derived from organismic needs for mastery and from the interaction requirements of autonomy and independence.

Each of the ten basic values can be characterized by describing its central motivational goal:

  1. Self-Direction. Independent thought and action; choosing, creating, exploring.
  2. Stimulation. Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.
  3. Hedonism. Pleasure and sensuous gratification for oneself.
  4. Achievement. Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.
  5. Power. Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.3
  6. Security. Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.
  7. Conformity. Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.
  8. Tradition. Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provide the self.4
  9. Benevolence. Preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the 'in-group').5
  10. Universalism. Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.6

The comprehensiveness of any set of value orientations in covering the full range of motivational goals cannot be tested definitively. However, some evidence is consistent with the comprehensiveness of the ten basic values.7