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Chapter 3: Values as independent variables

Do people’s value priorities influence their behaviour in systematic, predictable ways? This is the critical claim to fruitfulness for the use of the Values Theory.

The focus of this chapter is on the processes through which values are linked to behaviour, that is, on the ways that values can influence behaviour. The following example illustrates these processes:

Friday, as 5 pm approached, Joe was summoned to his boss’s office. To Joe’s surprise, the boss proposed that he become vice president for production at their new plant halfway across the country. Joe felt terrific. This was a golden opportunity - lots more independence, a chance to use his creative talents, challenges galore, and a clear step up the company ladder. “Talk it over with your family and get back to me on Monday,” he heard the boss say. As he drove home, Joe’s head raced with plans. He was sure he could do a good job. But the talk with his teenage daughters and his wife did not go smoothly. “But daddy, we’ve grown up here, all our friends are here, we love our school, and our church youth group. How can you do this to us? Can’t you wait ’til we go to college?” “Joe, I know this is important to you, but it will be tough for the girls, and I’ll have to find a new job too. We’ve invested so much in setting down roots and making a good life for our family here. I’ll feel lost in a new community.”

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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.

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Circular predictions

In chapter 1 we discussed how the circular structure of relations among the ten values enables us to relate the full set of values to other variables in an organized, integrated way, see Figure 1.1. The structure implies that any behaviour that relates positively to values on one side of the circle (e.g., power and achievement) is likely to relate negatively to values on the opposite side of the circle (e.g., universalism and benevolence). Ordinarily, relations of behaviour with values decrease around the circle monotonically, from the most to the least positively associated value. This helps in predicting and interpreting value-behaviour relations because it highlights a critical aspect of the way values enter into behavioural choices. Most behaviours have positive implications for some values but, simultaneously, negative implications for opposing values. If he takes the new job, Joe will behave in a way that expresses his self-direction, stimulation, and achievement values, but that also goes against protecting security, conformity, tradition, and benevolence values.

Typically, the consequences of behaviour promote the expression or attainment of one set of values at the expense of the opposing values in the circle. Behaviour (and attitudes) is guided not by the priority given to a single value but by trade-offs among competing values that are implicated simultaneously in the behaviour [Sch92] [Tet86]. To predict behaviour successfully, we must consider the importance of the values the behaviour will harm as well as those it will promote. The circular value structure helps to identify the competing values. The probability of behaviour depends on the relative priority a person gives to the relevant, competing values.

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In this exercise you will investigate how values and some other background variables can explain party preferences along the political continuum from left to right in Norway. To meet the requirements of such a task, we compute a new variable that includes only the parties that have a relatively clear profile on this dimension. This implies that only respondents who have voted for one of the following parties are included (from left to right): Red Electoral Alliance, Socialist Left Party, Labour Party, Conservative Party, and Progress Party.1

The parties on the right place particular emphasis on the market economy as a means to generate wealth, and give people the resources to protect their security. The intended consequences of such a policy are compatible with power, security, and achievement values. But they may harm the opposing values in the value circle - universalism and, perhaps, benevolence. Both these values call for promoting the welfare of others even at a cost to oneself. And universalism values express concern for the weak, those most likely to suffer from market-driven policies. In contrast, the left advocates the merits of the welfare state and expresses strong concern for social justice. The intended consequences of such a policy that focuses on helping the weak are compatible with universalism values and benevolence values as well. On the other hand, they conflict with the pursuit of individual power and achievement values.

Thus, political choice in Norway along this dimension consists of a trade-off between power, achievement, and security values on the right and universalism and benevolence values on the left. Before you start analysing, you should note that many different factors influence behaviour in natural settings. Hence, value-behaviour correlations are likely to be moderate.

Use the extract Human Values to solve the exercises below. The exercises could be solved using data from both ESS 1 and ESS 4. Subset the data to the Norwegian respondents. Use the design weight. 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. Perform a correlation analysis with the value variables and PartyN. Is the result in accordance with expectations?
  2. Try to explain party preference along the left-right dimension on the basis of values. Perform a multiple regression analysis with PartyN as the dependent variable and the values that correlate significantly as independent variables. How will you interpret the results?
  3. How much of the variation in party preference are these variables able to explain?
  4. How do you expect the variables age, gender, education and income to be related to party preference? Investigate how much of the variation in party preference these variables are able to explain.
  5. Perform a multiple regression analysis with the significant value variables and the significant variables from the last analysis. How much of the variation in the dependent variable is explained by the linear relationship with these variables? What is the best predictor variable? Write the regression equation.
    Subset: Find the country variable in the variable list. Click the icon for subset. Click the variable and select “Add to subset”. Highlight Norway in the list of categories, press “Add” and then “OK”.
    Weight: Click the icon for weight. Select the "dweight" variable (>), and press “OK”.
    1) Correlation: Click “Analysis” on the menu. Select “Correlation”. Find the PartyN variable and the ten values. Include all these variables in the analysis. The correlations are generally weak and insignificant - only five are significant: universalism (-0,26), tradition (0,09), conformity (0,11) security (0,08) and power (0,08). This means that universalism is, as expected, associated with the political left, and that the political right is weakly related to tradition, conformity, security and power.
    2) Regression: Click “Analysis” on the menu. Select “Regression”, and add partyN as dependent and the five values as independent variables. The model is significant, but power and security do not have a significant effect in the model. If power and security are omitted, we get the following regression equation: PartyN = 3,74 + 0,09 conformity + 0,09 tradition – 0,41 universalism. If universalism is increased by one unit, partyN will decrease by 0,4 units, all other variables held constant. This is quite large, and it means that universalism makes people vote for leftist parties. If conformity (or tradition) is increased by one unit, partyN will increase by 0,1 unit, all other variables held constant. Conformity makes people vote for parties on the right.
    3) The three variables in this model are able to explain about 8 % of the variation on partyN, R square = 0,08.
    4) Perform a regression analysis with age, gender, income and education as independent variables. The analysis gives significant results for gender and education. Women are more leftist, and so are people with higher education. The model is able to explain 6 percent of the variation on partyN.
    5) The model is able to explain about 12 percent of the variation in partyN. Universalism is the best predictor variable (compare Beta). If we omit conformity, we get the following equation: PartyN = 4,4 – 0,37*universalism – 0,15*education – 0,25*gender + 0,09*tradition.
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