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Theory of Basic Values

Summary of Schwartz Theory of Basic Values
When we think of our values, we think of what is important to us in life. Each of us holds numerous values (e.g., achievement, security, benevolence) with varying degrees of importance. A particular value may be very important to one person but unimportant to another. The value theory (Schwartz, 1992, 2006a) adopts a conception of values that specifies six main features that are implicit in the writings of many theorists ( e.g., Allport, 1961; Feather, 1995; Kluckhohn, 1951; Morris, 1956; Rokeach 1973):
  1. 1.
    Values are beliefs linked inextricably to affect (emotions). When values are activated, they become infused with feeling. People for whom independence is an important value become aroused if their independence is threatened, despair when they are helpless to protect it, and are happy when they can enjoy it.
  2. 2.
    Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action. People for whom social order, justice, and helpfulness are important values are motivated to pursue these goals.
  3. 3.
    Values transcend specific actions and situations. Obedience and honesty values, for example, may be relevant in the workplace or school, in business or politics, with friends or strangers. This feature distinguishes values from norms and attitudes that usually refer to specific actions, objects, or situations.
  4. 4.
    Values serve as standards or criteria. Values guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people, and events. People decide what is good or bad, justified or illegitimate, worth doing or avoiding, based on possible consequences for their cherished values. But the impact of values in everyday decisions is rarely conscious. Values enter awareness when the actions or judgments one is considering have conflicting implications for different values one cherishes.
  5. 5.
    Values are ordered by importance relative to one another. People’s values form an ordered system of priorities that characterize them as individuals. Do they attribute more importance to achievement or justice, to novelty or tradition? This hierarchical feature also distinguishes values from norms and attitudes.
  6. 6.
    The relative importance of multiple values guides to action. Any attitude or behavior typically has implications for more than one value. For example, attending church might express and promote tradition and conformity values at the expense of hedonism and stimulation values. The tradeoff among relevant, competing values guides attitudes and behaviors (Schwartz, 1992, 1996). Values influence action when they are relevant in the context (hence likely to be activated) and important to the actor.
The above are features of all values. What distinguishes one from another is the type of goal or motivation that it expresses. The values theory defines ten broad values according to the motivation that underlies each of them. These values are likely to be universal because they are grounded in one or more of three universal requirements of human existence with which they help to cope. These requirements are needs of individuals as biological organisms, requisites of coordinated social interaction, and survival and welfare needs of groups. Individuals cannot cope successfully with these requirements of human existence on their own. Rather, people must articulate appropriate goals to cope with them, communicate with others about them, and gain cooperation in their pursuit. Values are the socially desirable concepts used to represent these goals mentally and the vocabulary used to express them in social interaction.
The Structure of Value Relations
In addition to identifying ten basic values, the theory explicates the structure of dynamic relations among them. One basis of the value structure is the fact that actions in pursuit of any value have consequences that conflict with some values but are congruent with others. For example, pursuing achievement values typically conflicts with pursuing benevolence values. Seeking success for self tends to obstruct actions aimed at enhancing the welfare of others who need one's help. But pursuing both achievement and power values is usually compatible. Seeking personal success for oneself tends to strengthen and to be strengthened by actions aimed at enhancing one's own social position and authority over others. Another example: Pursuing novelty and change (stimulation values) is likely to undermine preserving time-honored customs (tradition values). In contrast, pursuing tradition values is congruent with pursuing conformity values. Both motivate actions of submission to external expectations.
Actions in pursuit of values have practical, psychological, and social consequences. Practically, choosing an action alternative that promotes one value (e.g., taking drugs in a cultic rite—stimulation) may literally contravene or violate a competing value (obeying the precepts of one’s religion—tradition). The person choosing what to do may also sense that such alternative actions are psychologically dissonant. And others may impose social sanctions by pointing to practical and logical inconsistencies between an action and other values the person professes. Of course, people can and do pursue competing values, but not in a single act. Rather, they do so through different acts, at different times, and in different settings.
The circular structure in Figure 1 portrays the total pattern of relations of conflict and congruity among values. Tradition and conformity are located in a single wedge because, as noted above, they share the same broad motivational goal. Conformity is more toward the center and tradition toward the periphery. This signifies that tradition values conflict more strongly with the opposing values. The expectations linked to tradition values are more abstract and absolute than the interaction-based expectations of conformity values. They therefore demand a stronger, unequivocal rejection of opposing values.
Viewing values as organized along two bipolar dimensions lets us summarize the oppositions between competing values. As Figure 1 shows, one dimension contrasts ‘openness to change’ and ‘conservation’ values. This dimension captures the conflict between values that emphasize independence of thought, action, and feelings and readiness for change (self-direction, stimulation) and values that emphasize order, self-restriction, preservation of the past, and resistance to change (security, conformity, tradition). The second dimension contrasts ‘self-enhancement’ and ‘self-transcendence’ values. This dimension captures the conflict between values that emphasize concern for the welfare and interests of others (universalism, benevolence) and values that emphasize pursuit of one's own interests and relative success and dominance over others (power, achievement). Hedonism shares elements of both openness to change and self-enhancement.
higher order values:
self direction: education.
achievement: grades
Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1).
Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1).