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Chapter 1: The Values Theory

"The value concept... [is] able to unify the apparently diverse interests of all the sciences concerned with human behavior." [Rok73]

A psychologist wrote these words, which proclaim the centrality of the value concept. Sociologists, e.g. [Wil68], and anthropologists, e.g. [Klu51], have echoed these opinions. These theorists view values as the criteria people use to evaluate actions, people, and events.

This chapter presents a theory within this tradition. The theory1 identifies ten motivationally distinct value orientations that people in all cultures recognize, and it addresses the dynamics of conflict and congruence among these values. It aims to be a unifying theory for the field of human motivation, a way of organizing the different needs, motives, and goals proposed by other theories.

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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

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The Structure of Value Relations

In addition to identifying ten motivationally distinct basic values, the Value Theory elucidates a structural feature of values, namely, the dynamic relations among them. Actions in pursuit of any value have psychological, practical, and social consequences that may conflict or may be congruent with the pursuit of other values. For example, the pursuit of achievement values may conflict with the pursuit of benevolence values - seeking success for self is likely to obstruct actions aimed at enhancing the welfare of others who need one's help. However, the pursuit of achievement values may be compatible with the pursuit of power values - seeking personal success for oneself is likely to strengthen and to be strengthened by actions aimed at enhancing one's own social position and authority over others. Another example: the pursuit of novelty and change (stimulation values) is likely to undermine preservation of time-honoured customs (tradition values). In contrast, the pursuit of tradition values is congruent with the pursuit of conformity values; both motivate actions of submission to external expectations.

The circle in Figure 1.1 portrays the total pattern of relations of conflict and congruity among values postulated by the theory. The circular arrangement of the values represents a motivational continuum. The closer any two values are in either direction around the circle, the more similar their underlying motivations. The more distant any two values, the more antagonistic their underlying motivations.

Figure 1.1. Theoretical model of relations among ten motivational types of values.

The conflicts and congruities among all ten basic values yield an integrated structure of values. This structure can be summarized with two orthogonal dimensions. Self-enhancement vs. self-transcendence: On this dimension, power and achievement values oppose universalism and benevolence values. Both of the former emphasize pursuit of self-interests, whereas both of the latter involve concern for the welfare and interests of others. Openness to change vs. conservation: On this dimension, self-direction and stimulation values oppose security, conformity and tradition values. Both of the former emphasize independent action, thought and feeling and readiness for new experience, whereas all of the latter emphasize self-restriction, order and resistance to change. Hedonism shares elements of both openness and self-enhancement.

Evidence for this theoretical structure has been found in samples from 67 nations [Fon96] [Sch92] [Sch94] [Sch05b] [Sag95]. It points to the broad underlying motivations that may constitute a universal principle that organizes value systems. People may differ considerably in the importance they attribute to each of the ten basic values, but their values are apparently organized by the same structure of motivational oppositions and compatibilities. This integrated motivational structure of relations among values makes it possible to study how whole systems of values, rather than single values, relate to other variables.

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In chapters 2 and 3 we will go more into detail about how values are shaped, and how values influence attitudes and behaviour. But let’s start by looking at how values relate to a controversial social attitude: attitudes toward gay people.

Respondents to the ESS survey were asked about the extent to which they agreed with the following statement: “Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish.” There is widespread interest in people’s sexual behaviour around the world. This statement is the subject of heated debate in most countries. Some argue that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong; others see no difference in principle between homosexual and heterosexual love.

Given the emphasis of conformity and tradition values-, which promote conformity to widespread rules and expectations and to traditional norms and avoiding change, it is reasonable to expect these values to predict most strongly an attitude of opposition to gay peoples’ rights to live their life as they wish. Heterosexual family life has been the foundation of virtually all societies, and any deviation from this pattern would therefore appear threatening for people who stress tradition and conformity values.

Figure 1.2. Correlations (Pearson’s r) between “gays should bee free to live as they like” and the ten values. Source: ESS 1


The hypothesis is supported by the correlations reported in figure 1.2. Conformity and tradition values are negatively related to personal freedom for gay people. Further, hedonism and universalism values are positively related to freedom for gay people. This is also a plausible result. Those with hedonistic preferences are concerned about personal pleasures, and universalism values express tolerance and protection of the welfare of all people.

Follow the link to the dataset Human Values and solve the exercises below. The exercises could be solved using data from both ESS 1 and ESS 4. The solutions refer to the results obtained using ESS 1. When you have completed the exercises, either focusing upon 2002 (ESS 1) or 2008 (ESS 4), please investigate if you can say something about change from 2002 to 2008.)

  1. Investigate the frequencies of the variable "Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish". It is important that you use both design and population size weightings. See more about weighting
  2. Compare the different countries’ mean responses on attitudes to gay freedom. Use the design weight. What country differences do you find?
  3. Now choose two countries in which to perform correlation analyses. Subset the data to the first country. Include the gay attitude variable and the ten value variables in a correlation analysis. Remember to use the design weight. Repeat the procedure for your second selected country. Compare the results: Are the correlations significant; are the patterns identical? Also compare the results with the results in Figure 1.2, which gives the correlations with all countries included.
  4. Use the dataset Country level data to solve this exercise.
    It is possible to aggregate the individual level data to country level. In this way, we can create ten value variables that could be used as estimates of the value context in each country. In the country level data, we have included the ten aggregated value variables. These data can be depicted by drawing thematic maps. Create a map that displays the value “hedonism”.

    1. Weight: Click the icon “Weight”. Select the combined weight and press ">", and then "OK". To remove a weight variable, you click the weight icon, then you click on the weight you want to remove and the arrow pointing left (<), then “OK”. Frequency: Click “Table” on the menu. Find the variable in the variable list in the left margin, click the variable and select “Add to row”.

    2. Compare means: Start by removing the population size weight. Click on the country variable and click “Add to row”. Click on the “gay” variable and select “Add as measure”.

    3. Subset: Click on the icon “Subset”. Click the variable “Country” in the left margin and select “Add to subset”. Pick your first country and press “OK” when you are finished.
    Correlation: Click “Analysis” on the menu. Select “Correlation”. Find the “gay” variable and the ten values. Include all these variables in the analysis.

    4. Map: Create a table with country code in the row, and hedonism as measure, and click the icon for map. Change the number of groups to three.

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