Schwartz built on the research of a social psychologist called Milton Rokeach, who had been carrying out research into values since the 1960s. This body of literature is now well-established and robust. Schwartz’s model has been used in thousands of subsequent academic papers (the original article alone has been cited over 3,700 times). Hundreds of papers – amounting to literally 100,000s of participants – have also tested the relationships between the values, using different lab and field methodologies across over 80 countries and in 48 different languages, the vast majority of these papers confirming the relationships Schwartz outlines.
In addition to asking people what they valued, researchers have verified the relationships between values using peoples’ friends’, partners’ and families’ perceptions of their values; and tests to see how easily a value-relevant word is recalled from memory. They have also tested the validity of the model using correlations between behaviours associated with the value sets, such as observing that prioritising tradition and conformity tend to result in similar behavioural tendencies, have some overlap with highly security-driven individuals, and very little overlap with highly stimulation-driven individuals.
The model is also the basis of the values component of the European Social Survey, the largest trans-European social survey, involving almost every national academic funding body in Europe, and collecting data from around 30 countries every two years. The World Values Survey, ‘the world’s most comprehensive investigation of political and sociocultural change’ also draws on the Schwartz model.
In short, it’s pretty robust. That’s not to say it is a complete theory of human motivation – rather, it’s an approximate but well-founded model of how human values relate to each other, with measurable impacts on our attitudes and behaviours.
No campaign, communication, policy or institution is ever value-free. Recognising this – and the impact of values on behaviour – the question instead becomes which values do we want to endorse?
No. A values-based approach requires a ‘big picture’ perspective: looking at many more drivers of values and behaviour than simply communications, including policies, institutions and lived experience more broadly.
Everyone holds all of the values on the circumplex, but to differing degrees. Even if a person strongly values power, status or wealth, they will still also hold intrinsic and self-transcendence values. It is therefore possible to engage these values in more extrinsically-oriented people.
Appealing to people with messages highly incongruent with their dominant values can of course sometimes provoke feelings of threat – or simply disinterest – and be dismissed. But sensitivity and creative thinking – particularly in our choices about when, where and how we engage with others – will help us to surmount these barriers.
As we have suggested above, because of the distinction between behavioural outcomes and underlying motives and values, a person can have achieved a great deal and be in a position of relative power but be primarily motivated by concern for the wellbeing of others. Even if they are highly extrinsically-oriented or more concerned with power itself, since every person holds every value, they may nevertheless respond to sensitively-pitched appeals to intrinsic values.
Nevertheless, in addressing those within institutions constrained from acting in more intrinsically-motivated ways, some will regard choosing to ‘speak their language’ (of economic costs and benefits, for instance) as a tolerable trade-off if it helps to secure significant changes.
This approach may sometimes run the risk of causing collateral damage, however. The kinds of appeals with which powerful groups are surrounded may well ‘trickle down’ through the media. And if policies are rooted in purely economic concerns, the ‘policy feedback’ they generate may help entrench these values even further. To the extent that we can provide countervailing messages, we may be able to help alter these institutional cultures. Alternatively, we may simply choose not to engage, but rather to try to exert external pressure as a strong popular movement. All these considerations will have to be carefully weighed in such cases.
No – and further, leadership and those operating in positions of power can play important roles in pushing for and implementing change. However, an understanding of how values work highlights the significant challenges faced by people in leadership roles – given that there will be constant pressures towards ambition and concern for image or success in attaining and maintaining leadership positions. These challenges are not insurmountable, but they will require self-awareness and reflection on the part of people in leadership roles to overcome them, and they should be supported by critical friends around them.
Values are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in and of themselves. They are each thought to express different needs, and are therefore each necessary for different purposes. Generally speaking, however, the priority we give to some values relative to others is associated with particular social and behavioural outcomes.
None of us can be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as individuals, either. All of us will hold all of the values on the circumplex to some extent. Which of them come to the fore at any given moment will depend on the situation we happen to be in (and this effect will be strengthened over time).
There are a few meaningful associations between values and ideologies, so this connection cannot be entirely dismissed. However, the circumplex cannot simply be mapped onto the political spectrum, and a range of values will inevitably crop up across ideological divisions.1
This approach does not advocate throwing out everything else we know about effective communication (or other aspects of our work). Nevertheless, it does suggest that alongside and underlying these considerations should be a clearly thought-out set of values and frames.
This may mean rethinking the way some areas are handled. Since people are most influenced by those they relate to and respect (including family and peers), messengers will remain important, for example. But the use of attention-grabbing celebrity spokespeople may need to be reconsidered – particularly if they are most closely associated with wealth, social status and other self-enhancement values.
The settings in which we interact with people will also remain important. And we will still need to present positive visions that engage and inspire. A values-conscious approach should aim to make these positive visions sustainable, and align them with values that won’t ultimately undermine that vision.
This approach does not suggest that any and all talk of questions of cost (say) must be dispensed with. Rather, we must be careful not to allow these considerations to dominate our discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of different policies – as though investment opportunities or the loss to national GDP were the overriding concerns. Unfortunately this practice has become fairly common, as many groups have attempted to align their priorities with those of the mainstream media, of political and economic elites.
Not necessarily always. The third, private and public sectors are brimming with expertise on engaging people and effecting change, and this knowledge must be built on. Values are simply another important element to consider. Techniques used to engage people in the first instance may be recognisably unhelpful for more sustained engagement in the longer term; and their impacts on people’s values should be carefully considered. But offering small rewards, such as appealing to people’s desire to look good or to get a free lunch, might be useful in ‘getting people in the door’ – while the overall, take-away experience could be centred more on community, creativity or other intrinsic values.