Linking processes

Four processes explain how values can influence behavior:

Value activation is the first process. In order for values to affect, or cause, behaviour, they must be activated, that is, they must be brought on-line for information-processing [Ver02]. Activation does not necessarily require consciously thinking about a value. Much information processing occurs outside of awareness. Values that are more important to a person can be activated more easily; they are more accessible. This partly explains why important values relate to behaviour [Bar00]. Value-relevant aspects of situations can activate values. Thus, when Joe described his job offer to his family, for them it activated benevolence and security values (promoting the well-being of children, preserving friendships). Even coincidental things that happen to us (passing by an auto accident) can make a value (security) more accessible. If we come across value-relevant words in a puzzle, for example, that value is more likely to be activated subsequently. And, if it is a high-priority value, it may then lead to behaviour.1

The second process that links values to behaviour is values as a source of motivation. People’s values, like their needs, induce valences on possible actions [Fea88]. That is, actions become more attractive, more valued subjectively, to the extent that they promote attainment of valued goals. Joe reacts enthusiastically to the job offer, finding it attractive because it would better enable him to attain his valued goals of self-direction, stimulation, and achievement. Actions become less attractive, more disvalued subjectively, to the extent that they obstruct valued goals. If Joe gave high priority to security and not to stimulation values, he would most likely find this offer threatening and unattractive. High-priority values are central to the self-concept. Sensing an opportunity to attain them sets off an automatic, positive, affective response to actions that will serve them. Sensing a threat to value attainment sets off a negative affective response.

Values can influence the attractiveness of actions even without conscious weighing of alternatives and their consequences. Joe’s affective reaction was immediate. His values were activated without his awareness. Later conscious thought may modify the attractiveness of actions by bringing their many consequences to mind (e.g. impacts on the family). Values guide much of our everyday behaviour (e.g., choosing a TV program to watch), even though we rarely recognize their influence consciously.

Even if values motivate action, people are unlikely to try to act unless they believe they have the capacity to carry out the action and that it is likely to produce the desired outcomes [Fea88]. Joe believed “he could do a good job” and it would bring excitement and recognition.

The influence of values on attention, perception, and interpretation in situations is the third linking process. High priority values are chronic goals that guide people to seek out and pay attention to the value-relevant aspects of a situation [Schs00]. Joe attends to the opportunities the job offers for self-direction, his wife to its effects on the quality of family life, his daughters to its impact on their relations with friends. Each defines the situation in light of his or her important values. Each interpretation suggests that a different line of action is desirable. Value priorities also influence the weight people give to each value issue. After the family discussion, everyone may understand that different values are at stake for different family members. But how much weight do security values deserve, and how much weight should be given to friendship and achievement? The weight each family member gives to these values depends on his or her own value priorities.

The influence of values on the planning of action is the fourth process. More important goals induce a stronger motivation to plan thoroughly. Thus, the higher the priority people give to a value, the more likely they will form action plans that can lead to its expression in behaviour. And planning increases the chances of carrying out the behaviour [Gol96]. Planning focuses people on the pros of desired actions rather than the cons. It enhances their belief in their ability to reach the valued goal successfully. Planning also increases persistence in the face of obstacles and distractions as well as readiness to resume goal-directed activity after interruptions. By promoting planning, value importance raises the likelihood of value-expressive behaviour.