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The Theory

What do we mean by values?

Values are used to characterise cultural groups, societies, and individuals, to trace change over time, and to explain the motivational bases of attitudes and behaviour. When we think of our personal values, we think of what is important to us in life. Each of us holds many values with varying degrees of importance.

So, what are values:

(1) Values are beliefs tightly linked to affect.

(2) Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action.

(3) Values rise above specific actions and situations. This feature separate values from norms and attitudes that usually refer to specific actions, objects, or situations.

(4) Values serve as standards or criteria. We become aware of our values when we need to make an important decision or take a significant action.

(5) We order our values by importance relative to one another.

(6) The relative importance of multiple values guides action.

Values, attitudes, beliefs, traits and norms

When we talk about values, we also need to understand how Values relate to attitudes, beliefs, traits and norms.

  • Attitudes are evaluations of objects as good or bad, desirable or undesirable. Attitudes can evaluate people, behaviours, events, or any object, whether specific or abstract and vary on a positive/negative scale. In contrast, values underlie our attitudes. Hence, they are the basis for our evaluations. We evaluate people, behaviours, events, etc. positively if they promote or protect achieving the goals we value. We might also, evaluate them negatively if they stop or threaten us from achieving these valued goals
  • Beliefs are ideas about how true it is that things are related in particular ways. Beliefs vary in how certain we are that they are true. Unlike values, beliefs refer to the subjective probability that a relationship it true, not to the importance of goals as guiding principles in life.
  • Norms are standards or rules that tell members of a group or society how they should behave. Norms vary on a scale of how much we agree or disagree that people should act in a specific way. While our values affect, whether we accept or reject particular norms.
  • Traits are tendencies showing consistent patterns of thought, feelings, and actions across time and situations. Sometimes we can use the same term to describe both a trait and a value but people who show a trait may not value the corresponding goal and those lacking a trait may value the corresponding goal highly.

Schwartz Theory of Basic Values

One of the latest and most researched theory in this space, is Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. The theory identifies ten  universal groups of values that are recognized across cultures. In addition to identifying these ten groups, the theory explains the structure and relations among them, as described in the diagram below. This structure is also described in relation to organisational culture

  • Values at the top panel regulate how one expresses personal interests and characteristics. In contrast, values in the bottom panel primarily regulate how one express social interests and characteristics. Note that security and universalism values are boundary values. Meaning, they primarily concern others’ interests, but their goals also regulate pursuit of own interests.
  • Values on the left serves to cope with anxiety due to uncertainty in the social and physical world. These are self-protective values where people look to avoid conflict, to keep the current order, or actively to control threat. Values on the right express anxiety free motivations and are growth or self-expansive values. Achievement values do both: Meeting social standards successfully may control anxiety and it may affirm one’s sense of competence.

universal values map