Basic Human Values

Topics: Sociology, Social relation, Value Pages: 32 (11549 words) Published: November 18, 2011

Values have been a central concept in the social sciences since their inception. For both Durkheim (1893, 1897) and Weber (1905), values were crucial for explaining social and personal organization and change. Values have played an important role not only in sociology, but in psychology, anthropology, and related disciplines as well. Values are used to characterize societies and individuals, to trace change over time, and to explain the motivational bases of attitudes and behavior.

Despite or, perhaps, because of the widespread use of values, many different conceptions of this construct have emerged (e.g., Boudon, 2001; Inglehart, 1997; Kohn, 1969; Parsons, 1951; Rokeach 1973). Application of the values construct in the social sciences has suffered, however, from the absence of an agreed-upon conception of basic values, of the content and structure of relations among these values, and of reliable empirical methods to measure them (Hitlin & Piliavin, 2004; Rohan, 2000). This article presents a theory intended to fill the part of this gap concerned with the values of individuals (Schwartz, 1992, 2005a).

The theory concerns the basic values that people in all cultures recognize. It identifies ten motivationally distinct value orientations and specifies the dynamics of conflict and congruence among these values. Some values contradict one another (e.g., benevolence and power) whereas others are compatible (e.g., conformity and security). The "structure" of values refers to these relations of conflict and congruence among values, not to their relative importance. If value structures are similar across culturally diverse groups, this would suggest that there is a universal organization of human motivations. Of course, even if the types of human motivation that values express and the structure of relations among them are universal, individuals and groups differ substantially in the relative importance they attribute to their values. That is, individuals and groups have different value “priorities” or “hierarchies.” This article explicates the theory of personal values and describes two different instruments to measure the values it identifies. Data gathered with these instruments in over 70 countries around the world have validated both the contents and structure of values postulated by the theory. I will also examine some sources of individual differences in value priorities and some of the behavioral and attitudinal consequences that follow from holding particular value priorities. In doing so, I will consider processes through which values are influenced and through which they influence action.

The Theory of Value Contents and Structure

The Nature of 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, 2005a) adopts a conception of values that specifies six main features that are implicit in the writings of many theorists: (1) Values are beliefs linked inextricably to affect. 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) 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) Values transcend specific actions and situations. Obedience and honesty, for example, are values that may be relevant at work or in school, in sports, business, and politics, with family, friends, or strangers. This feature distinguishes values from narrower concepts like norms and attitudes that usually refer to specific actions, objects, or...
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