How Values Work
How Values Work
By Common Cause / valuesandframes.org
May 10, 2015

Following decades of research and hundreds of cross-cultural studies, psychologists have identified a number of consistently-occurring human values.

Early researchers into human motivations discovered a surprising consistency in the things people said they valued in life. After testing this finding many times and across many countries and cultures, they put together a list of repeatedly occurring values.

Rather than occurring randomly, these values were found to be related to each other. Some were unlikely to be prioritised strongly at the same time by the same individual; others were often prioritised strongly at the same time.

The researchers mapped this relationship according to these associations, as presented below.The closer any one value ‘point’ is to another, the more likely that both will be of similar importance to the same person. By contrast, the further a value is from another, the less likely that both will be seen as similarly important. This does not mean that people will not value both cleanliness and freedom, for example – rather, they will in general tend to prioritise one over the other. Values can thus be said to have neighbours and opposites. Based on these patterns of association – as well as their broad similarities – they were then classified into ten groups.

Figure 2. Statistical analysis (dimensional smallest space analysis) of value structure across 68 countries and 64,271 people.

Figure 2. Statistical analysis (dimensional smallest space analysis) of value structure across 68 countries and 64,271 people.

The ten groups are described as follows:

values

Table 1. Definitions of the ten values groups.

These groups can be represented more simply in a circular diagram, called a circumplex:

Figure 3. Schwartz’s value circumplex.

The ten groups of values can then be divided along two major axes, as shown above:

  1. self-enhancement (based on the pursuit of personal status and success) as opposed to self-transcendence (generally concerned with the wellbeing of others);
  2. openness to change (centred on independence and readiness for change) as opposed toconservation values (not related to environmental or nature conservation, but to ‘order, self-restriction, preservation of the past and resistance to change’).

Much of the ongoing research on values simply supports some commonsense, intuitive ideas. Some values or motivations are likely to be associated; others less so. When we are most concerned for others’ welfare, we are very unlikely to be strongly interested in our own status or financial success (and vice versa). When we are at our most hedonistic or thrill-seeking, we are unlikely simultaneously to be strongly motivated by respect for tradition. But it also reveals that these relationships are not unique to our culture or society. They seem to recur, with remarkable consistency, all over the world.

Features of values

Some of the most important features of values are summarised below:

Values are universal

The circumplex is not an astrological chart, and values are not character types. Each of us is motivated by all of these values, but to differing degrees.

Engaging values

Values can be temporarily ‘engaged’, when brought to mind by certain communications or experiences – and this tends to affect our attitudes and behaviours. When reminded of benevolence values, for instance, we are more likely to respond positively to requests for help or donations.

Our values therefore not only change at different points of our lives, but also day-to-day.

The bleedover effect

Values that appear next to each other on the circumplex are more likely to be prioritised to the same extent by a person. Moreover, when one value is temporarily engaged, it tends to ‘bleed over’, strengthening neighbouring values and associated behaviours.

This relationship can produce some surprising results. People reminded of generosity, self-direction and family, for example, have been found to be more likely to support pro-environmental policies than those reminded of financial success and status – without any mention of the environment being made.

The see-saw effect

Whereas neighbouring values are compatible, values on opposite sides of the circumplex are rarely held strongly by the same person. When one value is temporarily engaged, opposing values (and behaviours associated with them) tend to be suppressed. As with a see-saw, when one value rises, the other tends to fall.

This has been illustrated consistently in experiments; for instance people asked to sort words related to achievement values (such as ‘ambition’ and ‘success’) from other words were less likely to volunteer their time to help a researcher (a behaviour associated with benevolence values).

Values aren’t characteristics

While the terms used to describe values are often also used in everyday speech to describe characteristics or outcomes, it’s important to distinguish between the two. While there may well be a correlation between some motivations and seemingly related outcomes, this is by no means always the case. Pleasurable activities are not necessarily motivated by hedonism (you can experience pleasure while pursuing any of your values), while a powerful social movement may be motivated more by social justice and equality (universalism values) than by power. There is even some evidence that artists motivated by their work – rather than by fame, rewards, or a desire to ‘prove themselves’ – ultimately tend to be the most successful.

In this and similar cases, achievement as a motivation can hinder achievement as an outcome.

It’s also important to be clear about the – often quite specific – definitions of each of these values. Desiring ‘achievement’ in the sense of ‘personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards’, for instance, is quite different from a desire to ‘achieve’ advances for equality, world peace or environmental protection (all universalism values).

Values and goals

Our values are related to our goals – another way of measuring and categorising the things we strive for in our lives. Goals can also be grouped on a circumplex according to the compatibilities and conflicts between them.Two of these groupings – intrinsic and extrinsic – are particularly important, and have also been found to recur across cultures.The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goals is similar to that between self-transcendence and self-enhancement values. The two categorisations are not completely interchangeable, but for the sake of simplicity we will combine the two concepts into ‘intrinsic values’ and ‘extrinsic values’. Extrinsic values are centred on external approval or rewards; intrinsic values on more inherently rewarding pursuits.

3.7 ·
2
Trending Today
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 9,281 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 5,913 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 5,159 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 3,209 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 1,688 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 936 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 930 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 897 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 688 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 623 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 623 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
Here's How We're Going to End Factory Farming
2 min · 601 views today · Factory farming is a huge problem. But the solution is simple, if you'll join us. Watch this short 2 minute video to see how... Help make a kinder world possible...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 588 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 374 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 368 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 336 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 329 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 287 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 280 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 264 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
How Values Work