Values are affect-laden beliefs that refer to a person’s desirable goals. Values guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people and events. To measure peoples’ values, the ESS survey uses a modified version of a recently developed scale called the Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ). The PVQ includes short verbal portraits of different people. Each portrait describes a person’s goals, aspirations, or wishes that point implicitly to the importance of a single basic value. For example: “Thinking up new ideas and being creative is important to him. He likes to do things in his own original way,” describes a person for whom self-direction values are important. “It is important to him to be rich. He wants to have a lot of money and expensive things,” describes a person who cherishes power values. By describing each person in terms of what is important to him or her - the goals and wishes he or she pursues - the verbal portraits capture the person’s values without explicitly identifying values as the topic of investigation.1

For each portrait, respondents answer: “How much like you is this person?” The response alternatives are; “very much like me”, “like me”, “somewhat like me”, “a little like me”, “not like me”, and “not like me at all”. For each portrait, respondents choose their response by checking one of six boxes labelled with the response alternatives. Thus, respondents’ own values are inferred from their self-reported similarity to people who are described in terms of particular values. The similarity judgments are transformed into a 6-point numerical scale. Note that respondents are asked to compare the portrait to themselves rather than themselves to the portrait. Asking them to compare other to self directs attention only to the aspects of the other that are portrayed. Thus, the similarity judgment is also likely to focus on these value-relevant aspects. In contrast, asking respondents to compare self to other would focus attention on self and might cause respondents to think about the large range of self-characteristics accessible to them [Sru83] [Hol83] [Tve77]. Not finding these characteristics in the portrait, respondents might overlook the similarity of values.2 Because the PVQ uses concrete statements that are not cognitively complex, it is suitable for use with all segments of the population including those with little or no formal schooling.

The PVQ used in the ESS survey includes 21 value items. These items are combined into ten indexes, one for each of the ten basic values. There are three items to measure universalism, and two each for the other nine basic values. An item measures a basic value if the aims, goals, wishes, or efforts of the person described express or promote the central goal of the basic value or lead to its attainment. The items were constructed to cover the different conceptual components of each value.

Table 4.1 Operationalization of the ten basic values in the ESS survey
VALUE and central goal Items that measure each value with their ESS labels


Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.
  • Imprich: It is important to him to be rich. He wants to have a lot of money and expensive things.
  • Iprspot: It is important to him to get respect from others. He wants people to do what he says.


Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.
  • Ipshabt: It is important to him to show his abilities. He wants people to admire what he does.
  • Ipsuces: Being very successful is important to him. He hopes people will recognize his achievements.


Pleasure and sensuous gratification for oneself.
  • Impfun: He seeks every chance he can to have fun. It is important to him to do things that give him pleasure.
  • Ipgdtim: Having a good time is important to him. He likes to "spoil" himself.


Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.
  • Impdiff: He likes surprises and is always looking for new things to do. He thinks it is important to do lots of different things in life.
  • Ipadvnt: He looks for adventures and likes to take risks. He wants to have an exciting life.


Independent thought and action choosing, creating, exploring.
  • Ipcrtiv: Thinking up new ideas and being creative is important to him. He likes to do things in his own original way.
  • Impfree: It is important to him to make his own decisions about what he does. He likes to be free and not depend on others.


Understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.
  • Ipeqopt: He thinks it is important that every person in the world should be treated equally. He believes everyone should have equal opportunities in life.
  • Ipudrst: It is important to him to listen to people who are different from him. Even when he disagrees with them, he still wants to understand them.
  • Impenv: He strongly believes that people should care for nature. Looking after the environment is important to him.


Preservation and enhancement of the welfare of people with whom one is in frequent personal contact.
  • Iphlppl: It is very important to him to help the people around him. He wants to care for their well-being.
  • Iplylfr: It is important to him to be loyal to his friends. He wants to devote himself to people close to him.


Respect, commitment and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one's culture or religion impose on the individual.
  • Ipmodst: It is important to him to be humble and modest. He tries not to draw attention to himself.
  • Imptrad: Tradition is important to him. He tries to follow the custom handed down by his religion or his family.


Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.
  • Ipbhprp: It is important to him always to behave properly. He wants to avoid doing anything people would say is wrong.
  • Ipfrule: He believes that people should do what they are told. He thinks people should follow rules at all times, even when no-one is watching.


Safety, harmony and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.
  • Impsafe: It is important to him to live in secure surroundings. He avoids anything that might endanger his safety.
  • Ipstrgv: It is important to him that the government ensures his safety against all threats. He wants the state to be strong so it can defend its citizens.

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