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Values Theory and Research


The study of values covers a broad multidisciplinary terrain. Different disciplines have pursued this topic with unique orientations to the concept of values. The classic conception of values in anthropology was introduced by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961). In this view, values answer basic existential questions, helping to provide meaning in people's lives. For example, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck argue that Americans value individual effort and reward because of their fundamental belief in the inherent goodness of human nature and the capacity of individuals to obtain desired ends. Economists have considered values not in terms of the meaning they provide but as a quality of the objects used in social exchange (Stigler 1950). For economists, objects have value but people have preferences, and those preferences establish hierarchies of goods. It is the goods that have value, with those which are both scarce and highly desirable being the most highly valued.

Sociologists, particularly Parsons, have emphasized a different conception of values (see Parsons and Shils 1951). In sociology, values are believed to help ease the conflict between individual and collective interests. Values serve an important function by enabling individuals to work together to realize collectively desirable goals. For example, while all the individual members of society may believe that public education is a good idea for themselves, their children, and/or the well-being of society in general, none of them is excited by the prospect of paying taxes to build schools and pay teachers. Even when people believe in the collective good, their private interest (keeping one's money for one's own use) conflicts with the necessities for keeping a society organized. Values such as being socially responsible, showing concern for others, and education encourage people to sidestep their own desires and commit themselves to the more difficult task of social cooperation. As Grube et al. (1994, p. 155) argue, "values play a particularly important role because they are cognitive representations of individual needs and desires, on the one hand, and of societal demands on the other."

Another way to understand the sociological conception of values is to examine when values become vital in social life. They do not matter much when everyone is in full agreement. For example, everyone values breathing over asphyxiation. Even though this value may be of life-and-death importance, it is not a particularly important object of social inquiry because no one disagrees about whether one should hold one's breath. The situation has been quite different with regard to abortion, affirmative action, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, environmental protection, and many other social issues that elicit conflicts in personal values. Values are important to understand when they conflict between individuals, groups, or whole societies. They provide a window through which one can view conflicts and variations within and between societies.

Although many formal definitions of values have been advanced by sociologists, one definition in particular captures the concept's core features well. Smith and Schwartz (1997, p. 80) observe five features:

  1. Values are beliefs. But they are not objective, cold ideas. Rather, when values are activated, they become infused with feeling.
  2. Values refer to desirable goals (e.g., equality) and to the modes of conduct that promote these goals (e.g., fairness, helpfulness).
  3. Values transcend specific actions and situations. Obedience, for example, is relevant at work or in school, in sports or in business, with family, friends or strangers.
  4. Values serve as standards to guide the selection or evaluation of behavior, people, and events.
  5. Values are ordered by importance relative to one another. The ordered set of values forms a system of value priorities. Cultures and individuals can be characterized by their systems of value priorities.

Smith and Schwartz's conceptualization is consistent with the sociological view that values are abstract concepts, but not so abstract that they cannot motivate behavior. Hence, an important theme of values research has been to assess how well one can predict specific behavior by knowing something about a person's values. If someone claims to believe in protecting the environment, for example, how confidently can one assume that that person recyles, contributes to the Sierra Club, or supports proenvironmental legislation? Below, several empirical efforts to measure the link between values and behavior are discussed. However, some scholars are skeptical that such a link can be drawn (Hechter 1992, 1993).

The definition given above emphasizes the link between values and desired goals. In an earlier discussion, Schwartz (1992, p. 4) argued that values, when defined in this way, reflect three basic requirements of human existence: "needs of individuals as biological organisms, requisites of coordinated social interaction, and survival and welfare needs of groups." By understanding values, one can learn about the needs of both individuals and societies. Sociologists are especially concerned with how values facilitate action toward ends that enhance individual and collective outcomes or are perceived to do so by society's members. Research on values does not presuppose which values are best (social scientists are not preachers) but tries to discover what people believe in and how their beliefs motivate their behavior. A major part of the enterprise is concerned with strategies to measure values: which ones people hold, how strongly they hold them, how their value priorities compare with those of others, how the value priorities of different groups or societies compare with one another.

Values research has a long and varied history in sociology. Important theoretical and empirical studies of values have been made by Parsons and Shils (1951), Kluckhohn (1951), Williams (1960), Allport et al. (1960), Scott (1965), Smith (1969), and Kohn (1969). Because the field is so broad, this article cannot cover all the ground but concentrates on recent empirical endeavors. Other reviews summarize the early studies in detail, such as Blake and Davis (1964), Williams (1968), Zavalloni (1980), Spates (1983), and Ball-Rokeach and Loges (1992).

Contemporary areas of research in values are not well integrated; each represents an active arena of social research that is empirically driven and theoretically informed. Below, will be summarized these areas, noting the unique contributions and insights of each one. The research reviewed here has been conducted by psychologists and political scientists as well as sociologists. However, all of it is premised on the sociological conceptual framework of values inherent in the definition given above.


The most influential researcher on values in the last three decades is Rokeach. The focus of his work has been the development of an instrument to measure values that he believes are universal and transsituational (see especially Rokeach 1973). That is, Rokeach has tried to develop an instrument that can be used to compare individual commitment to a set of values wherever the researchers live and whenever they complete a survey. This instrument has been widely used in the measurement of values (Mayton et al. 1994).

The Rokeach Value Survey is an instrument made up of thirty-six value items that are ranked by survey subjects. The items are divided into two sets. The first ones are termed "instrumental values" and refer to values that reflect modes of conduct, such as politeness, honesty, and obedience. The second set refers to "terminal values" that reflect desired end states, such as freedom, equality, peace, and salvation. Each set of eighteen value items is ranked by subjects according to the items' importance as guiding principles in their lives. The purpose of the procedure is to force subjects to identify priorities among competing values. In this model, the values are assumed to be universal; therefore, to some extent, each value is supported by every subject. The question is how subjects adjudicate between value conflicts. For example, the instrumental value "broad-minded" may conflict with the value "obedience." How would a person who is trying to conform to the expectations of racist parents maintain a broad-minded commitment to diversity? By requiring that values be rank-ordered, the Rokeach Values Survey helps disclose a person's value priorities.

One of the distinct advantages of the Rokeach Value Survey is that it is a fairly simple instrument that can be used by researchers in a variety of settings. Thus, it was possible to see if the value priorities of Michigan college students were similar to those of other subsamples of Americans, allowing comparisons of those with different demographic characteristics, such as age, sex, race, religion, and education. For example, in a national sample, Rokeach found that men and women tended to prioritize "a world at peace," "family security," and "freedom; however, men strongly valued "a comfortable life" while women did not, and women strongly valued "salvation" while men did not. Value priorities have been shown to be linked to a variety of attitudes about contemporary social issues. For example, as would be predicted, concern for the welfare of blacks and the poor is stronger among those who value equality.

The Rokeach Value Survey has been used by numerous researchers to explore many facets of values, such as the relationship between values and behavior, the role of values in justifying attitudes, and the extent to which people remain committed to particular values over time. An important early study of values employing the Rokeach model was conducted by Feather (1975), who measured the values of Australian high school and college students as well as those of their parents. One central finding demonstrated the importance of a close fit between the person and the environment in which that person is situated: Students were happiest when their values were congruent with those articulated by the schools they attended or the subjects they studied. Another finding was that parents were consistently more conservative, emphasizing values such as national security, responsibility, and politeness, while their children where more likely to emphasize excitement and pleasure, equality and freedom, a world of beauty, friendship, and broad-mindedness. It also was found that student activists were distinctive in their emphasis on humanitarianism, nonmaterialism, and social and political goals.

The Rokeach model underscores the potential conflicts between individuals with different value priorities. Different positions on important social issues may be traced to differential commitments to particular values. For example, Kristiansen and Zanna (1994) report that supporters of abortion rights emphasize values such as freedom and a comfortable life, whereas opponents place a high priority on religious salvation. Moreover, as they defend their positions, each group will justify its position by referring to its own value priorities; this, of course, may not be very convincing to people who do not share them. This may be one reason why the abortion debate seems intractable. Individuals also may be ambivalent about particular social issues because of their pluralistic commitment to two or more values that conflict in the public policy domain. This is the essence of Tetlock's (1986) "value pluralism model of ideological reasoning." For example, liberals tend to weight equality and freedom fairly equally, causing them to feel ambivalently about affirmative action policies (Peterson 1994).

Rokeach and Rokeach (1980) argue that values are not simply hierarchically prioritized but that each is interrelated in a complex system of beliefs and attitudes. Thus, a belief system may be relatively enduring, but changes in one value may lead to changes in others and in the whole system. When are personal values likely to endure, and when are they likely to change? Rokeach argues that individuals try to maintain a consistent conception of themselves that reflects their morality and competence. When their actions or beliefs contradict this self-conception, they feel dissatisfied and change is likely to occur to bring their actions or beliefs into line. Grube et al. (1994) review a number of studies in which researchers attempted to uncover contradictions in subjects' values with the prediction that this conflict would lead to value change. These works have been called "self-confrontation" studies; they have found a significant degree of value change as a result of the method, even over long periods. However, the method is much less effective at inducing specific behavioral changes.

The central claim of values researchers is consistent with a commonsense understanding of values. Values are important because they guide people's behavior. At times they may be an even stronger motivation than is self-interest. For example, fear of arrest may not be as good an explanation for one's choice not to shoplift as is the more straightforward commitment to the value of right conduct. However, this central claim has been the most controversial in values research. The robust finding that values directly affect behavior has never surfaced in values research. The link does not exist, or several links in a long chain of causes intervene between these two crucial variables. This ambiguity has led Hechter (1992), for example, to suggest that social scientists stop using the term "values." Kristiansen and Hotte (1996, p. 79) observed that "although values, attitudes, and behavior are related, these relations are often small . . . one wonders why people do not express attitudes and actions that are more strongly in line with their values." Many people also wonder whether current measures of values are adequate. The Rokeach Value Survey, for example, may not be sufficiently complete or its definitions of values may be too abstract or vague to predict behavior accurately.

Kristiansen and Hotte (1996) argue that values researchers must pay much closer attention to the intervening factors in the values–behavior relationship. For example, those factors may include the way in which individuals engage in moral reasoning. Making a behavioral choice requires the direct application of very general values. How is this done? What do people consider in trying to make such a decision? Do they rely on ideological commitments to moral principles? Do they take into consideration the immediate context or circumstances? How much are they influenced by social norms? These questions are likely to guide research on the values–behavior connection in the future.


A major evolution of the Rokeach Values Survey is found in the cross-cultural values research of Schwartz (see especially Schwartz 1992 and Smith and Schwartz 1997). Like Rokeach, Schwartz has focused on the measurement of values that are assumed to be universal. To that end, Schwartz has modified and expanded the Rokeach instrument. He also has proposed a new conceptual model that is based on the use of the new instrument in more than fifty countries around the world and more than 44,000 subjects (Smith and Schwartz 1997).

According to Schwartz (1992), values are arrayed along two general dimensions (Figure 1). In any culture, individual values fall along a dimension ranging from "self-enhancement" to "selftranscendence." This dimension reflects the distinction between values oriented toward the pursuit of self-interest and values related to a concern for the welfare of others: "It arrays values in terms of the extent to which they motivate people to enhance their own personal interests (even at the expense of others) versus the extent to which they motivate people to transcend selfish concerns and promote the welfare of others, close and distant, and of nature" (1992, p. 43). The second dimension contrasts "openness to change" with "conservation": "It arrays values in terms of the extent to which they motivate people to follow their own intellectual and emotional interests in unpredictable and uncertain directions versus to preserve the status quo and the certainty it provides in relationships with close others, institutions, and traditions" (1992, p. 43). This dimension indicates the degree to which individuals are motivated to engage in independent action and are willing to challenge themselves for both intellectual and emotional realization. Schwartz (1992, pp. 5–12) further postulates that within these two dimensions, there are ten motivational value types:

  1. Universalism: "understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature"
  2. Benevolence: "preservation and enhancement of the welfare of people with whom one is in frequent personal contact"
  3. Conformity: "restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms"
  4. Tradition: "respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one's culture or religion imposes on the individual"
  5. Security: "safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self"
  6. Power: "attainment of social status and prestige, and control or dominance over people and resources"
  7. Achievement: "personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards"
  8. Hedonism: "pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself"
  9. Stimulation: "excitement, novelty, and challenge in life"
  10. Self-direction: "independent thought and action—choosing, creating, exploring"

Like Rokeach, Schwartz conceptualizes these motivational types as being dynamically interrelated, with those closest together being conceptually linked and having the greatest influence on one another. This model was not developed deductively but was derived from an empirical project of data collection in which the Schwartz Scale of Values was used. This instrument, which includes fifty-six Rokeach-style values items, is completed by subjects who rate each item on a ten-point scale of personal importance. Unlike the Rokeach instrument, this scale does not require the respondents to rank-order the items. Through the use of a multidimensional scaling technique (smallest-space analysis), statistical correlations of individual items in a survey sample are mapped in a two-dimensional space. Thus, each item is plotted on a graph, and clusters of those items constitute the domains identified in Figure 1. The major finding of the Schwartz project is that this basic visual model reappears in culture after culture. The system of values is essentially the same worldwide, although the emphasis given to particular domains varies from place to place.

Schwartz's dynamic model provides new insight into the values–behavior debate. Schwartz argues that the relationship of values to behavior (or any other variable) must be understood in the context of a multidimensional system. Voting for a particular political platform, for example, can be predicted on the basis of a person's value priorities. Given the interrelatedness of values in Schwartz's model, a person's values form a system: For example, a person who strongly endorses universalism is unlikely to endorse its distal correlate power while moderately endorsing values that are in closer proximity. Schwartz (1996) has used data from these values systems to predict political behavior.

Schwartz's research is especially important for distinguishing values at the individual and cultural levels. Individuals may differ in their values, but so too do cultures, with the members of one culture tending toward one set of priorities and the members of another culture tending toward a different set. Cultural variation in values is of special interest to sociologists, while individual-level values are closer to the interests of social psychologists. Cultural values are important to sociologists because they reflect ways in which society balances conflicting concerns between individuals and groups and the dominant themes around which individuals are socialized. One issue is the provision of public goods; another is the extent to which individuals profess autonomy from the collectivity rather than identifying with it.

To obtain cultural-level values, Schwartz (1994) used the mean scores of values for each culture sample as the basis for plotting a new two-dimensional model. The data points thus are cultures rather than individual respondents. Among other findings, Schwartz discovered that east Asian nations emphasize hierarchy and conservatism, whereas west European nations emphasize egalitarianism and individual autonomy. Anglo nations, including the United States, fall between these extremes, emphasizing mastery and autonomy but also hierarchy; this may explain the greater tolerance for income inequality in countries such as the United States (Smith and Schwartz 1997).

Smith and Schwartz (1997) argue that values research should take two trajectories in the future. First, most studies now ask the respondents to report their own value priorities, whereas, especially for culture-level analyses, it would be useful to ask the respondents to report what they believe are the prevailing values of their culture. This may provide a better account of the normative milieu in which people evaluate their values and decisions. Second, most studies have examined the strength of individual commitment to particular values, but little research has dealt with the degree of value consensus in a culture. Because of the sociological concern about linking cultural values and the organization of societies, this is a crucial topic. One intriguing hypothesis is that socioeconomic development may enhance value consensus, while democratization may decrease it. These tendencies have broad implications for social stability and change in the future as countries pursue these goals.


In cross-cultural research on values, no concepts have been explored in as much detail as individualism and collectivism. Consistent with the underlying theme of values research that private and communal interests may conflict, individualism and collectivism speak directly to the various ways in which cultures have balanced these competing goals.

The concept of individualism as a cultural construct has received much empirical attention, particularly since the publication of Hofstede's (1980) study of 117,000 IBM employees worldwide. In that study, fifteen items related to employment goals were subdivided into related clusters by using factor analysis, one of which Hofstede labeled individualism, inspiring this line of research. Theory and measurement in individualism and collectivism are associated primarily with Triandis (see especially Triandis 1989, 1995 and a review by Kagitcibasi 1997). In this tradition, the individualistic cultures of the West are typically contrasted with the collectivistic cultures of the East and Latin America. For example, Kim et al. (1994, pp. 6–7) argue that an individualistic ethos encourages individuals to be "autonomous, self-directing, unique, assertive, and to value privacy and freedom of choice." In contrast, "interdependency, succor, nurturance, common fate, and compliance" characterize a collectivistic ethos.

Triandis (1989, p. 52) defines collectivism in terms of in-groups and out-groups: "Collectivism means greater emphasis on (a) the views, needs, and goals of the in-group rather than oneself; (b) social norms and duty defined by the in-group rather than behavior to get pleasure; (c) beliefs shared with the in-group rather than beliefs that distinguish self from in-group; and (d) great readiness to cooperate with in-group members." Collectivism is characterized by two major themes that are consistent with the values dimensions of Schwartz's theory. First, collectivism is defined by conservation values: conformity, tradition, and security. The Japanese proverb "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" illustrates the demand for conformity in the collectivistic Japanese society. Second, collectivism is characterized by self-transcendent values. Individuals demonstrate a great willingness to cooperate in the pursuit of collective benefits, sacrificing their self-interest to do so. In conflicts between individual and collective interests, collectivists will subsume their individual interests in favor of those of the in-group. However, collectivists are not universally self-transcendent. Cooperation and self-sacrifice extend only to the boundaries of the in-group.

Individualism and collectivism are cultural constructs that define the values of societies, not those of individuals. Triandis argues that individuals vary in their adoption of the cultural ethos. To distinguish individualistic cultures from individualistic individuals, he uses the terms "idiocentrism" for the individual-level correlates of individualism and "allocentrism" for the individual-level correlates of collectivism. An individualistic culture is defined by having a majority of idiocentrics. These individuals identify primarily with the values of individualism, but not in every situation. Thus, individualistic cultures have both idiocentrics and allocentrics, and idiocentrics are collectivistic on occasion.

Triandis has developed a fifty-item scale to measure the various elements of individualism and collectivism. In addition, he advocates a multimethod approach to their study. For example, Triandis et al. (1990) used several measures, including the Schwartz Scale of Values. One of the measures is the Twenty Statements Test (Kuhn and McPartland 1954), which asks respondents to finish twenty sentences that begin with the words "I am . . ." This test is used to measure the degree of social identification or the "social content of the self" by disclosing the number and ordinal position of group membership references to the self relative to the number and ordinal position of individual references to the self. For example, "I am white" refers to group membership, whereas "I am kind" refers to a character trait. Collectivists are predicted to identify more closely with groups than are individualists. In Triandis et al.'s study, less than one-fifth of a U.S. sample's responses were social, whereas more than half of a mainland Chinese sample's responses were social. Using another measure, individualists and collectivists were distinguished by attitude scales measuring the perceived social distance between in-group members and out-group members. Collectivists perceived in-group members as being more homogeneous than did individualist and also perceived out-group members as being more different from in-group members than did individualists.

Among the numerous findings of studies of the values–behavior relationship, one theme is particularly apparent. Individualists tend to emphasize competition, self-interest, and "free riding," whereas collectivists tend to emphasize cooperation, conflict avoidance, group harmony, and group enhancement. Thus, in balancing individual and collective needs, collectivists favor the group more readily than do individualists. Collectivists also have been shown to favor equality in distributive outcomes, whereas individualists favor equity (Kagitcibasi 1997). Because this adjudication between the self and the collective is central to values research, this theme is replayed across research programs. Below, a line of research—"social values"—that provides a unique methodology for understanding these values will be examined.

Sociological research on values has long considered the relationship between values and social progress. For example, Weber ([1905] 1958) argued that an important factor in the rise of capitalism was the emergence of the Protestant Ethic, which encouraged hard work and self-control as a means of salvation. Thus, individuals were guided less by economic necessities or external coercion than by religious commitment. In values research, establishing a causal relationship between cultural values and social arrangements and outcomes is an ongoing endeavor. Triandis (1989), for example, suggests that individualism has two important structural antecedents: economic independence and cultural complexity. Independence enables individuals to pursue their own interests without fearing the economic consequences of deviation from the group. Cultural complexity, such as ethnic diversity and occupational specialization, fosters divergent interests and perspectives within a culture, increasing individualistic orientations. Another strand in values research has examined the issues of cultural values and economic development. This line of research, which was initiated by Inglehart, is summarized below.

Future research on individualistic and collectivistic values is likely to proceed along three lines. First, these concepts may become more closely integrated with Schwartz's general theory of values. Schwartz (1990, 1994) makes a case for this, and researchers are beginning to use measures of individualism/collectivism concurrently with the Schwartz Scale of Values (Triandis et al. 1990). Second, the overarching concepts of individualism and collectivism are becoming increasingly refined as specific relationships between values and other variables are examined. Triandis (1995) proposes that individualism and collectivism be further distinguished by horizontal and vertical dimensions in which "horizontal" refers to egalitarian social commitments and "vertical" refers to social hierarchies. Vertical collectivism may characterize the value structure of rural India, vertical individualism may characterize the structure of the United States, horizontal collectivism may characterize an Israeli kibbutz, and horizontal individualism may characterize Sweden's value structure (Singelis et al. 1995). Third, another refinement has been proposed by Kagitcibasi (1997), who argues that "relational" individualism/collectivism be distinguished from "normative" individualism/collectivism. The normative approach emphasizes cultural ideals, such as an individualistic culture's prioritization of rights and a collectivistic culture's stress on group harmony and loyalty. The relational approach emphasizes differing concepts of the self in individualism and collectivism. In individualistic cultures, the self is perceived to be autonomous, with clear boundaries drawn between the self and others. In collectivist cultures, the self is perceived as more interdependent, with greater self-identification with the group.


The measurement of social values constitutes a unique approach in values research. More than any other approach, this one directly addresses the adjudication between individual and collective interests. The basic issue in this research is how individuals prioritize allocations between themselves and anonymous others. How much are individuals willing to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the group?

Social values research is grounded in a larger paradigm of experimental gaming, the most famous example of which is the "prisoner's dilemma." Although game theory is quite complex, most experimental games have as a central theme the conflict between individual and collective outcomes. This is particularly true in "n-person" prisoner's dilemma games and "commons" games, both of which are more generally called social dilemma games (for a general review of social dilemmas research, see Yamagishi 1994). The social values measure is a slight variation of these games, which always involve decisions that result in various payoffs to the self and others. These games are laboratory analogues of real-world situations in which values may play a significant role in behavioral choices. The example of supporting a tax levy for public education discussed at the beginning of the article constitutes a social dilemma because individual interests are in direct conflict with the common good. Another example is proenvironmental behavior such as not littering and recycling. The classic prisoner's dilemma refers to a hypothetical situation involving the choice between exposing a coconspirator of a crime to obtain a lenient sentence and remaining loyal in spite of the greater personal risk in doing so.

In this research tradition, social values are measured through the administration of "decomposed games" to college students participating in social psychology experiments (Messick and McClintock 1968). Essentially, the subjects are presented with a series of payoffs that vary in consequence for both the self and a paired player. The subjects are asked to choose between two and sometimes three outcomes. For example, a subject may be asked which of the following outcomes would be preferable: receiving $8 while the other person receives $2 and receiving $5 while the other person also receives $5. The constellation of several choices with varying outcomes determines the subject's social values. Primarily, the technique distinguishes between altruists, cooperators, individualists, and competitors, the most common classifications.

Each orientation is an indication of the preference that is given for the outcomes for both the self and the other. Subjects may attempt to maximize or minimize their own or others' outcomes or may be indifferent to one or the other. Figure 2 displays the universe of social values in a two-dimensional representation of preferences for the self and the other. Altruists are defined by indifference to their own outcomes and a preference for maximizing others' outcomes. Cooperators attempt to maximize both their own and others' outcomes. Individualists maximize their own outcomes but are indifferent to those of others. Competitors are concerned with maximizing their own outcomes while minimizing others' outcomes; that is, they attempt to maximize the difference between their own and others' outcomes. Theoretically, other social values may exist, such as aggressors, who are indifferent to the self while minimizing others' outcomes; sadomasochists, who minimize both self and others' outcomes; masochists, who minimize their own outcomes but are indifferent to others', and martyrs, who minimize their own outcomes while maximizing those of others. Except for occasional aggressors, these orientations have not been found empirically. Subjects who show no consistent pattern of choice are treated as unclassifiable.

Kuhlman and Marshello (1975) have shown that social values influence choices in prisoner's dilemma games, Liebrand (1986) and McClintock and Liebrand (1988) have demonstrated their influence in a variety of n-person games, and Kramer et al. (1986) have done the same thing in regard to a commons dilemma. In other words, values have been demonstrated to clearly affect behavioral choices in these laboratory situations.

Altruists and cooperators tend to cooperate, while individualists and competitors tend to defect (not cooperate). The essence of social values is the identification of individual differences regarding preferred outcomes in interdependent situations. One interpretation of social values is that "cooperators have internalized a value system in which satisfaction with interdependent relationships is directly proportional to the level of collective welfare they produce; competitors' rewards are directly proportional to how much more they receive than others; and individualists are relatively indifferent to others' outcomes, making them most similar to the traditionally conceived 'economic person"' (Kuhlman et al. 1986, p. 164).

Studies of social values have found that cooperators and noncooperators view social dilemmas differently. In general, decisions in social dilemmas are evaluated in terms of intelligence and morality. Players often are seen as making either "smart" or "good" decisions. Intelligence conforms to a player's social values. Cooperators tend to view cooperation as the intelligent choice, predicting that unintelligent others will defect. Noncooperators tend to view defection as the intelligent choice, predicting that unintelligent others will cooperate. This self-serving reversal does not occur with morality, however. Van Lange (1993) found that both cooperators and noncooperators view cooperation as moral. Both groups expect more cooperation from highly moral others than from less moral others.

Although noncooperators see a link between morality and cooperation, they do not tend to view the social dilemma situation as being primarily moral. Cooperators are more likely to view cooperation as a moral act. Noncooperators frame the problem not in terms of morality but in terms of power: Cooperation is viewed as weak rather than moral. This is called the "might over morality hypothesis" (Liebrand et al. 1986). Viewing cooperation as both weak and unintelligent may provide the self-justification necessary for pursuing an egoistic goal ("Van Lange 1993). The might over morality hypothesis may overstate the case for noncooperators. Defectors have been found to assign more moral attributions to defection than do cooperators (Van Lange et al. 1990). The difference may be not only that cooperators view the dilemma as a moral situation more than defectors do but also that defectors may view their moral obligations differently. Both groups are likely to view self-enhancement as an important value.

Despite the fact that cooperators view social dilemmas as highly moral, their cooperation is not a matter of pure altruism. They are concerned with joint outcomes, with the self included. When they are exploited by noncooperators, they quickly defect (Kuhlman and Marshello 1975). In a study by Kuhlman et al. (1993), cooperators viewed cooperation as a partially self-interested act. That is, they recognized the self-beneficial outcomes of collective cooperation. By contrast, competitors and individualists did not do this. For cooperators and competitors, the difference may be explained by trust. Cooperators are high trusters, assuming that others will be cooperative. Competitors are low trusters, expecting others to defect as they themselves do (Kelley and Stahelski 1970). Competition therefore may be a result of a fear of exploitation or of losing in a competitive social arena. Individualists were found to be high trusters (expecting others to cooperate), unlike competitors. In this case, defection may be motivated more by greed than by fear.

Two studies suggest that social values discovered in the laboratory may have ecological validity, that is, be relevant to real-world situations. Bem and Lord (1979) created a three-part strategy: First, they had experts list the personality characteristics of cooperators, competitors, and individualists. Second, they used decomposed games to measure the subjects' values. Third, they had the subjects' dormitory roommates describe the personality of the subjects. The personal descriptions of specific individuals correlated with both the personality templates created by the experts and subjects' social values as measured by the games. McClintock and Allison (1989) assessed the social values of subjects and, after several months, mailed them a request to donate their time to a charitable cause. Cooperators were more willing to donate time than were competitors and individualists.

Social values research describes differing motivational preferences and behaviors in social dilemmas. This line of research is fascinating because it has adopted the methodology (experimental games) of "rational choice" theorists, who argue that prosocial values always will be trumped by considerations of self-interest. Although the experimental paradigm is clearly artificial and perhaps contrived, it has fostered an accumulation of controlled evidence that supports the basic thesis of values research: Values are important determinants of behavioral choice.


Values research as it is described in this article has followed two distinct strands represented by several schools of theory and research. The first is the micro-level strand. Values research at the microlevel has focused on individual values: what they are, how they are measured, how they vary, and how they affect behavior. The various methodologies for measuring values, from Rokeach's value survey, to the Schwartz scale, to Messick and McClintock's decomposed games, represent this strand. The second strand operates at the macro level, the level of cultures or societies. In this strand, one question concerns the distinct cultural variations in values priorities, such as Triandis's individualism versus collectivism. Another question follows from Weber's work drawing a link between cultural values (Protestantism) and socioeconomic change (the emergence of capitalism). The contemporary work of Inglehart is concerned with the association of values and economic development and with how changes in economic conditions are reflected in very different value priorities. Important works in this tradition include Inglehart (1990) and Abramson and Inglehart (1995). A good summary is found in Inglehart (1995).

The starting point for this line of research is Weber's ([1905] 1958) classic association between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism in the West. Protestant Europe created a new value system that replaced several dogmatic restraints on the development of medieval European society. Weber was principally interested in the shift from traditional authority, best represented by the church, to what he called "rational-legal" authority, which endorsed individual achievement over ascriptive status and the preeminence of the impersonal state as an arbiter of conflicts. Crucial to modernization was secularization, which was reflected in an emerging scientific worldview, and bureaucratization, which was reflected in the rise of organizations driven by attempts at efficiency and explicit goal setting.

Inglehart argues that modernization has followed a fairly straightforward trajectory with economic growth and security at its epicenter. Correlated with modernization has been a coherent set of values such as industriousness, equity, thrift, and security. However, the achievement of economic security in the last twenty-five years in many countries around the world is fostering a change in the dominant values paradigm. Inglehart suggests that people may be experiencing a turn toward postmodern values that emphasize individualistic concerns such as friendship, leisure, self-expression, and the desire for meaningful, not just wealth-creating, work. In key ways, postmodern values follow a path similar to that of modernization values, especially in regard to secularization and individuation. However, they branch in other directions on several points. In societies in which major proportions of the members are economically secure, individuals seek to fulfill postmaterialistic aims such as environmental protection and relational satisfaction. Individuals reject large institutions, whether religious or state-based, focusing instead on more private concerns. They seek new outlets for self-expression and political participation, particularly through local activism.

Some evidence for the postmodern shift comes from Inglehart and Abramson's (1994) analyses of the Euro-Barometer Surveys, which have measured values at frequent intervals since 1970 in all the European Community nations. These surveys have shown a general increase in postmaterialistic values.

Other evidence regarding the postmodern thesis is drawn from the 1990–1991 World Values Survey, which included data from representative samples from forty-three countries and more than 56,000 respondents. Using multiple indicators for the identification of modern and postmodern values, Inglehart tabulated mean scores for each country for forty-seven values. Those scores were employed in a factor analysis that disclosed two important dimensions. The first dimension contrasts traditional authority with rational-legal authority, and the second contrasts values guided by scarcity conditions with those guided by postmodern or security conditions. The distribution of these values in a two-dimensional space is illustrated in Figure 3. These distributions of values also correspond to countries, and so they can be plotted in a two-dimensional space (Inglehart 1995). For example, Inglehart places the United States, Great Britain, and Canada as well as the Scandinavian countries in the postmodern end of this dimension. China, Russia, and Germany ranked highest in the rational-legal domain. Nigeria stood out in its emphasis on traditional authority, while India, South Africa, and Poland fell between an emphasis on traditional authority and an emphasis on scarcity values.

These data do not suggest that once a country achieves a certain level of economic security, a sweeping change in values follows. The process is gradual, with segments of the population shifting from generation to generation. Hence, even in "postmodern" societies, many, if not most, of the members are likely to emphasize "modernist" values (Kidd and Lee 1997). These data do not suggest that those who adopt postmodern values score higher on various indicators of subjective well-being (Inglehart 1995). What changes is not their level of happiness per se but the criteria by which they evaluate their happiness.

Two issues will continue to receive attention in this line of research. First, there has been some debate about the role of environmentalism as a postmodern value. Does it indicate postmodern commitments, suggesting that it will be valued only by economically secure societies, or is it a more inclusive phenomenon? For a discussion of this issue, see Kidd and Lee (1997) and Brechin and Kempton (1997) along with other articles in that issue of Social Science Quarterly. More generally, the postmodern thesis must be tested with cross-national time-series data to identify values changes over time. These data also will provide insight into questions of causality (Granato et al. 1996): Do values affect economic development, or vice versa?


Values research has been of interest to sociologists throughout the history of the discipline. Recently, the study of values has produced novel empirical research programs that carefully address core questions in this field of inquiry. Most fundamentally, values researchers ask what motivates behavior: Is it self-interest alone, self-interest and external coercion, or a combination of self-interest, coercion, and internalized values? A central issue in this line of questioning is the role of values in adjudicating conflicts between individual and collective pursuits.

Values researchers begin with the task of values measurement. What values to people hold? Which ones do they prioritize? How do values differ between members of society and between different cultures? Rokeach supplied the most common measure of values, and Schwartz expanded that measure. Messick and McClintock supplied a very different and innovative measure of social values within the paradigm of game theory research. Schwartz, Triandis, and Inglehart have made valuable contributions to the understanding of values cross-culturally. Of particular note is the apparent universality in the conceptual organization of values worldwide, while much variation in the cultural commitment to particular values has been observed.

Beyond measurement, values researchers have been concerned with the role of values in social interaction. Do values motivate behavior? How are values related to other motivators of behavior? How do individuals increase or decrease their commitment to particular values? How do societies undergo values changes? How are conflicts between values adjudicated between individuals, between individuals and their communities, and between different cultures? Each of the research traditions described in this article has made a contribution to an understanding of the complex values–behavior relationship. Rarely, however, has the question of values acquisition and retention been addressed. Given the enormous progress in cross-cultural values research, it is likely that this domain will garner a great deal of research attention in the next few years.


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David R. Karp

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