Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Theory of basic human values

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Theory of basic human values:
What is the theory of basic human values and how can it be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Shalom Schwartz, the scientific supervisor of the International Laboratory of Socio-Cultural Research, conducting a course 'Using Basic Human Values ​​to Understand Individual Behaviour' for Masters students in 2011. (Link)

The Theory of Basic Human Values, developed by Shalom H. Schwartz, attempts to measure universal values that are held by individuals and found throughout all major societies and cultures. It is a leading theory of intercultural sociology and psychology as it outlines the nature of values and differentiates between different values, detailing which features are common to all values and what distinguishes one value from another.

The Theory of Basic Human Values notes three requirements of human existence, and aims to identify and categorise a core set of basic human values and motivations inherent in them:

  1. needs of individuals as biological organisms
  2. requisites of coordinated social interaction
  3. survival and welfare needs of groups.

The theory defines values as 'individual concepts about a trans-situational goal that express an interest included in a motivational domain valued by the range of importance and that act as a guiding principle in the life of persons.'[1]. The theory states that values are organised into a logical system that underlies and explains individual decision-making, attitudes, and behaviour. This structure arises from the social and psychological conflict or congruity between values that people experience when they make everyday decisions[2]. There are substantial differences in the value priorities of individuals. The theory identifies individuals' value priorities, and the relative importance of their different values. Schwartz posits that the motivations that affect behaviour and attitude is the trade-off between relevant values, not the importance of any one single value.

Background[edit | edit source]

Values have been studies for over a century, and is difficult to define[3]. The concept of values has been used to differentiate between personal drivers and social norms. Social norms are only applicable in specific social situations, however values are fundamental personal principles that are applicable to any situation or behaviour.

What are values?[edit | edit source]

The Theory of Basic Human Values defines individual values as 'desirable, trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity.'[4]

Six main features of values[5]:

  1. Values are beliefs linked inextricably to affect. When values are activated, they become infused with feeling.
  2. Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action.
  3. Values transcend specific actions and situations. This feature distinguishes values from norms and attitudes that usually refer to specific actions, objects, or situations.
  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. Values are ordered by importance relative to one another. People’s values form an ordered system of priorities that characterize them as individuals.
  6. The relative importance of multiple values guides action. Any attitude or behaviour typically has implications for more than one value. The trade-off among relevant, competing values guides attitudes and behaviours. Values influence action when they are relevant in the context (hence likely to be activated) and important to the actor.

Iterations of the Theory of Basic Human Values[edit | edit source]

In the mid-1980s, Schwartz and a group of researchers wanted to expand on the work done by Milton Rokeach and his theory of the nature of human values which was published in 1973.[6] Based on Rokeach’s earlier work,[7] Schwartz and his team focused on the motivational aspect of values.

Each individual has a different set of values which are formed by social influences.[8] Schwartz and Bilsky developed a theory of how individual values are interrelated, which argues that there is a relatively simple, universal structure underlying individual value preferences. Schwartz and his team theorised that there are two value continuums. The first, 'openness to change versus conservation' describes the conflict between openness toward change and new experiences at the one end of the continuum, and order, control, and restraint at the other. The second, 'self-enhancement versus self-transcendence' describes the conflict between the concern with the outcomes of one’s actions for the self versus the concern with these outcomes for the others. Various iterations of the theory have developed a number of distinct values within this motivational continuum.

The theory of basic human values (1987)[9][edit | edit source]

Initially, Schwartz and Bilsky proposed a model with seven different motivational domains: prosocial, restrictive conformity, enjoyment, achievement, maturity, self-direction and security. These were represented by a circular model, where adjacent values were related and the values on the opposite side of the circle represented opposing values.

The theory of basic human values: revised version (1992)[10][edit | edit source]

Schwartz revised the theory and posited a model comprising ten different types of values. In addition to the seven existing values, he added three more (power, tradition and stimulation), and replaced enjoyment with hedonism, prosocial with benevolence and maturity with universalism. The ten values were factored into four dimensions: self-transcendence, conservation, openness to change and self-enhancement. As with the first iteration, these ten new domains were represented within a circular model, where adjacent values were related and the values on the opposite side of the circle represented opposing domains.

This iteration was supported by numerous studies, many of which were conducted by Schwartz and colleagues, including Schwartz and Sagie (2000)[11], Schwartz and Bardi (2001)[12], and Schwartz and Boehnke (2004)[13].

Current theory[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

The theory of basic human values: refined version (2012)[14][edit | edit source]

In 2012, Schwartz and his colleagues presented a refined set of 19 basic individual values that serve as "guiding principles in the life of a person or group".

In this iteration, Schwartz et al. differentiated between three types of universalism (concern, nature and tolerance), two types of benevolence (caring and dependability), two types of self-direction (thought and action), two types of conformity (rules and interpersonal), two types of power (dominance and resources) and two types of security (personal and societal). Two new basic values were also included: humility and face (or appearance). Refer to Table 1 for definitions of each of the 19 values. As with the previous iterations, this version fits into a circular continuum (Fig 1.).

The nineteen values[edit | edit source]

Table 1: The 19 values
Value Conceptual definitions in terms of motivational goals
Self-direction–thought Freedom to cultivate one’s own ideas and abilities
Self-direction–action Freedom to determine one’s own actions
Stimulation Excitement, novelty, and change
Hedonism Pleasure and sensuous gratification
Achievement Success according to social standards
Power–dominance Power through exercising control over people
Power–resources Power through control of material and social resources
Face Security and power through maintaining one’s public image and avoiding humiliation
Security–personal Safety in one’s immediate environment
Security–societal Safety and stability in the wider society
Tradition Maintaining and preserving cultural, family, or religious traditions
Conformity–rules Compliance with rules, laws, and formal obligations
Conformity–interpersonal Avoidance of upsetting or harming other people
Humility Recognizing one’s insignificance in the larger scheme of things
Benevolence–dependability Being a reliable and trustworthy member of the ingroup
Benevolence–caring Devotion to the welfare of ingroup members
Universalism–concern Commitment to equality, justice, and protection for all people
Universalism–nature Preservation of the natural environment
Universalism–tolerance Acceptance and understanding of those who are different from oneself

Relationships between values[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Proposed circular motivational continuum of 19 values with sources that underlie their order.[15]

As with previous iterations, the current nineteen values fit within a circular model (Fig. 1), in which adjacent values are similar and those that are on the opposite side of the circle represent opposing values. The closer the values are (in either direction around the circle), the more similar their underlying motivations. Conversely, the further away, the underlying motivations are more different.

The nineteen values can be structured into twelve different factors – which can, in turn, be structured into four further factors based on the goal they seek.

Twelve factors[edit | edit source]

Table 2: Twelve factor analysis
Factor Description
Universalism Understanding and acceptation of others and a concern for the well being of society and the planet we inhabit.
Benevolence An interest and concern for the well being of persons with whom one is in close contact.
Humility Acknowledgement of one's insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
Conformity Control of one's own impulses and behaviour, in line with social norms and expectations.
Tradition Respect for, commitment to and acceptation of the ideals and customs imposed by culture or religion.
Security Personal well being and that of in-persons and in-groups, as well as the stability of society and oneself.
Face or appearance Security and power via the keeping up of one's own public image and avoidance of humiliation. Also included in self-enhancement.
Power The search for social status and prestige, as well as control or dominance over people and resources.
Achievement Personal success obtained by demonstrating competence according to social criteria or cultural norms.
Hedonism The search for pleasure and sensuous gratification or satisfaction for oneself.
Stimulation The search for excitement, novelty and change, needed to keep up a good functional level
Self-direction Independence of thought, action and opinion.

Four factors[edit | edit source]

The twelve factors can be further factored into four factors.

  1. Openness to change: controlling one's own impulses and behaviour, according to social norms and expectations.
  2. Self-enhancement: promoting self-interest at the expense of others, emphasising the search for personal success and dominance over others.
  3. Conservation: preserving stability and security in relations with one's surroundings, with the emphasis on subservient self-repression, the preservation of traditional practices and protecting stability.
  4. Self-transcendence: promoting the wellbeing of society and nature above one's own interests, highlighting the acceptance of others as equals, as well as a concern for their wellbeing.

Correlations between values[edit | edit source]

Values that are next to each other are considered to be most similar. Values that are located close to each other share motivational goals, and are conceptually and functionally similar.[16] It is likely the behaviours that result from these values are complementary or related. Conversely, values that are opposite each other on the continuum are conflicting.[17]

Value priorities[edit | edit source]

Although the nature of values and their structure is universal across many cultures, individuals and groups have different value priorities or hierarchies. Each individual and group differ from one another in the relative importance they attribute to each of the values.

The theory states that what affects behaviour and attitude is a 'trade-off' between conflicting values, not the importance of any one value on its own. For example, two people rate the importance of tradition as '4'. Despite these two people giving tradition the same rating, tradition has higher priority for the person who rated all other values lower than for person who rated all other values higher.

Values are organised into two motivational dimensions ('openness to change versus conservation' and 'self-enhancement versus self-transcendence'). Schwartz's theory that behaviours that satisfy an emotional goal are likely to do so at the expense of the opposing value. For example, to engage in self-serving behaviour is likely to hinder pro-social motivational goals, and vice versa.[18]

Schwartz has tested his theory in multiple countries, which have supported the theory of universal organisation of values along the motivational continuums[2][4].

Measurement concerns[edit | edit source]

Schwartz has stated that the boundaries between the basic values are arbitrary, and the values can actually be split up in a variety of ways.[19]

Previous iterations of the theory did not have clear boundaries between values, which meant that there was a high level of cross-factor loading, making it difficult to identify which value affected particular behaviours [20]. The current refined theory attempts to reduce or eliminate this issue by increasing the number of values and more specifically defining each value. By having more and defined values, correlations between the values can be more precisely measured, reducing the cross-factor loading, and making it easier to identify which values can be attributed to certain behaviours.[5]

Methods of measurement[edit | edit source]

There are two primary models which have been developed to measure basic values.

Schwartz Value Survey[edit | edit source]

The Schwartz Value Survey (SVS)[2] asks participants to conduct a self-assessment against values. The survey is made up of a series of Likert-scale questions where participants are asked to rate the importance of either a noun or adjective on a 9 point scale between -1 (opposed to my values) to 7 (of supreme importance). A rating of 0 means that the value is not at all important.

Test yourself![edit | edit source]

You can download a copy of the SVS and scoring key here: Critical Synthesis Package: Schwartz Value Survey (SVS)

Portrait Values Questionnaire[edit | edit source]

The Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ)[21] is an alternative to the SVS. It was created mainly for children between 11 and 14 years of age, however can also be applicable to adults. In contrast to the SVS, the PVQ asked participants to compare themselves to short 'verbal portraits' of different people, stating how similar they are to the example person on a scale of 'very much like me' to 'not like me at all'. This differs from the SVS as the participants are asked to state how they act and behave, rather than what values they report to be important.

How do our values affect our behaviour?[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. The value-attitude-behaviour hierarchy

[Provide more detail]

Predicting behaviour based on values[edit | edit source]

Schwartz has stated that in order to accurately predict a behaviour, consideration must be given to the importance of the values that the behaviour will harm, as well as those it will promote, and the probability of a behaviour depends on the relative priority that the individual gives to the relevant, competing values[22].

Following the development of Schwartz’s value theory and its method of measuring personal values, correlational and causal dependency of attitudes on personal values has been demonstrated in studies of various attitudes. In a paper from 2005, Schwartz stated that 'Among the behaviours studied are use of alcohol, condoms and drugs, delinquency, shoplifting, competition, hunting, various environmental and consumer behaviours, moral, religious and sexual behaviour, autocratic, independent and dependent behaviour, choice of university major, occupation and medical specialty, participation in sports, social contact with out-groups, and numerous voting studies'[23].

The value–attitude–behaviour model states that values influence behaviour indirectly through attitudes.[24] For example, Homer and Kahle (1988) determined that values predicted attitudes toward natural foods, which in turn affected shopping preferences[25]. Feather (1995) conducted a study where participants were presented with scenario which described hypothetical situations with two alternative behavioural choices. These choices were designed to represent different values. Feather found that values were correlated to behavioural choices.[26]

Individual differences in values have been shown to map to motivationally similar behaviours across the value continuum, using both self-report and peer-reported measures of behaviour[27]. There is a consistent relationship between values and behavioural dispositions with regard to personality[28].

Applications[edit | edit source]

Among attitudinal variables that have been related to value priorities are job satisfaction, organisational commitment, trust in institutions, attitudes toward ethical dilemmas, toward the environment, sexism, religion, and identification with one’s nation or group.

Staff development[edit | edit source]

Understanding the different values and underlying defining goals of staff can also help organisations to motivate staff and create appropriate and accommodating organisational structure[29]. Understanding staff values and behaviour patterns can assist management to foster an environment of motivation and good morale in the workplace. An important element of effective management is to understand staff attitudes, personalities and behaviours[30].

Economics[edit | edit source]

The theory has also been applied to economics research, particularly the implications for economic growth. Studies show that differences in cultural attitudes plays a significant role in the success of entrepreneurial efforts across countries, despite having similar labour, natural resources and government structure. A study in 2014 found that cultural attitudes accounted for 60 per cent of the difference in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) variance per capita in countries within the European Union (EU)[31].

Cybersecurity, international relations and cyber regulation[edit | edit source]

As the world becomes more reliant on technology, understanding individual's attitudes to risk in cyberspace is very important. The potential effects of irresponsible technology use can be catastrophic to personal information, business and government, and has the capacity to harm a large population.

A study in 2019 posited that 'values lie at the core of the human risk‐taking behaviour in the digital space, which, in turn has a direct impact on the way in which digital domain is regulated', which has an effect on most of the world's population[32]. Determining individual's values and associated behaviours can aid law enforcement and cyber regulators to monitor online use and prevent crimes.

Advertising[edit | edit source]

Values can influence reaction to advertising[33] and is one of the powerful explanations for consumer behaviour[34]. Where people have a choice, we tend to choose the option that aligns most with our own values. Understanding individual and cultural values can be invaluable to advertising and marketing firms. Being aware of one's own values can also allow us to be more conscious of the products and services whose advertisements we are being exposed to, and therefore make more informed choices about our shopping behaviour.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The Theory of Basic Human Values outlines the nature of values and differentiates between different values, detailing which features are common to all values and what distinguishes one value from another. These values are held by individuals and found throughout all major societies and cultures.

The theory has countless uses and applications. Only a small number are mentioned in this book chapter, however from these four examples, the scale of the theory and the cross-cultural impact it has can be understood. It can be used to understand people on a personal level through advertising, at a professional level through staff development and human resources, and at a national and international level though economics and cyber security. These examples display how understanding human values and motivations through the psychological scientific Theory of Basic Human Values can both affect and improve personal lives and affect the global population.

In the most practical sense, being aware of human own values and subsequent behaviours, can assist people to become more self-aware, self-controlled and introspective about the way they live their lives.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Schwartz, Shalom & Cieciuch, Jan & Vecchione, Michele & Davidov, Eldad & Fischer, Ronald & Beierlein, Constanze & Ramos, Alice & Verkasalo, Markku & Lönnqvist, Jan-Erik & Demirutku, Kursad & dirilen-gumus, Ozlem & Konty, Mark. (2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103. 663-88. 10.1037/a0029393.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theory and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 25, pp. 1-65). New York: Academic Press.
  3. Rohan M. J. (2000). A rose by any name? The values construct. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 4 255–277. 10.1207/S15327957PSPR0403_4
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schwartz, Shalom H. (1994), “Are there Universal Aspects in the Structure and Content of Human Values?” Journal of Social Issues, 50, 19-45.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2, 1. Online:
  6. Rokeach, M. (1973), The Nature of Human Values, The Free Press, New York, NY.
  7. Rokeach, M. (1973), The Nature of Human Values, The Free Press, New York, NY.
  8. Schwartz, S. & Bilsky, W. (1990). Toward a theory of the universal content and structure of values: Extensions and cross-cultural replications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 58(5), 878-891
  9. Schwartz, S.H. & Bilsky, W. (1987). Toward a universal psychological structure of human values. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol., 53 (3) (1987), pp. 550-562
  10. S.H. Schwartz. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: theoretical advances and empirical tests In 20 countries, M.P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25 pp. 1-65
  11. Schwartz, S. H., & Sagie, G. (2000). Value consensus and importance: A cross-national study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31(4), 465–497.
  12. Schwartz SH, Bardi A. (2001). Value Hierarchies Across Cultures: Taking a Similarities Perspective. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 32(3):268-290. doi:10.1177/0022022101032003002
  13. Schwartz, S. & Boehnke, K. (2004). Evaluating the structure of human values with confirmatory factor analysis. Journal of Research in Personality. 38. 230-255. 10.1016/S0092-6566(03)00069-2.
  14. S.H. Schwartz, S.H., Cieciuch, J., Vecchione, M., Davidov, E., Fischer, R., Beierlein, C., Ramos, C., Verkasalo, M., Lönnqvist, J.E., Demirutku K., Dirilen-gumus O. & Konty, M. (2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol., 103 (4), pp. 663-688
  15. Schwartz, Shalom H.; Cieciuch, Jan; Vecchione, Michele; Davidov, Eldad; Fischer, Ronald; Beierlein, Constanze; Ramos, Alice; Verkasalo, Markku et al. (2012-10). "Refining the theory of basic individual values.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103 (4): 663–688. doi:10.1037/a0029393. ISSN 1939-1315. 
  16. Schwartz, S. H., & Bilsky, W. (1987). Toward a psychological structure of human values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 550–562
  17. Kesberg, R. & Keller, J. (2018) The Relation Between Human Values and Perceived Situation Characteristics in Everyday Life. Frontiers in Psychology 9-1676 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01676
  18. Latham, G.P. (2004). The Motivational Benefits of Goal-Setting. Decision-Making and Firm Success 18 (4) 126-129.
  19. Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theory and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 25, pp. 1-65). New York: Academic Press.
  20. Giménez, A.C. & Tamajón, L.G. (2019). Analysis of the third-order structuring of Shalom Schwartz’s theory of basic human values, Heliyon, 5 (6).
  21. Schwartz, S.H., Melech, G., Lehrnami, A., Burgess, S., Harris, M. & Owens, V. (2001). Extending the cross-cultural validity of the theory of basic human values with a different method of measurement. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 32:519-42
  22. Schwartz, S. (1996). Value priorities and behaviour: Applying a theory of integrated value systems. The psychology of values: The Ontario symposium, Vol. 8 (p. 1–24)
  23. Schwartz, Shalom. (2005). Basic Human Values: An Overview. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  24. Hitlin, S., & Piliavin, J. A. (2004). Values: Reviving a Dormant Concept. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 359–393.
  25. Homer, P. M., & Kahle, L. R. (1988). A structural equation test of the value-attitude-behavior hierarchy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 638-646.
  26. Feather, N. T. (1995). Values, valences, and choice: The influences of values on the perceived attractiveness and choice of alternatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(6), 1135–1151.
  27. Bardi, A. & Schwartz, S.H. (2003). Values and Behavior: Strength and Structure of Relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 29(10):1207-1220. doi:10.1177/0146167203254602
  28. Fischer, R. and Boer, D. (2015), Motivational Basis of Personality Traits: A Meta‐Analysis of Value‐Personality Correlations. Journal of Personality, 83: 491-510. doi:10.1111/jopy.12125
  29. Luthans, F., & Youssef-Morgan, C. M. (2017). Psychological capital: An evidence-based positive approach. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 4, 339-366.
  30. Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of management review, 26(2), 179-201.
  31. Liñán, F. & Fernandez-Serrano, J. (2014) National culture, entrepreneurship and economic development: different patterns across the European Union. Small Business Economics 42, 685–701.
  32. Kharlamov, A. and Pogrebna, G. (2019) Using human values-based approach to understand cross-cultural commitment toward regulation and governance of cybersecurity, Regulation & Governance.
  33. Piirto, Jane (2005). "I Live in My Own Bubble: The Values of Talented Adolescents". The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education: 106–118.
  34. Beatty, Sharon E. (2005). "Alternative Measurement Approaches to Consumer Values: The List of Values and the Rokeach Value Survey". Psychology and Marketing: 181–200.

External links[edit | edit source]