1. Why values matter

Values represent our guiding principles: our broadest motivations, influencing the attitudes we hold and how we act.

In both action and thought, people are affected by a wide range of influences. Past experience, cultural and social norms, and the money at our disposal are some of the most important. Connected to all of these, to some extent, are our values – which represent a strong guiding force, shaping our attitudes and behaviour over the course of our lives. Our values have been shown to influence our political persuasions; our willingness to participate in political action; our career choices; our ecological footprints; how much money we spend, and on what; and our feelings of personal wellbeing.1

Values, attitudes and behaviours.2

Social and environmental concern and action, it turns out, are based on more than simply access to the facts3(a finding that may seem obvious, but has often proven difficult to fully acknowledge). In reality, both seem to be motivated above all by a particular set of underlying values. In what follows, we will examine what values are (and what they are not), the ways they work in a dynamic and interacting system, and why they are so important for those concerned with social and environmental issues.

  1. [1] Schwartz, S. (2011). Studying Values: Personal Adventure, Future Directions. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42(3), 307-19.
  2. [2] Political persuasions: Caprara, G. V., Schwartz, S., Capanna, C., Vecchione, M. and Barbaranelli, C. (2006) Personality and Politics: Values, Traits, and Political Choice. Political Psychology, 27(1), 1–28.

    Caprara, G., Vecchione, M. and Schwartz, S. H. (2009), Mediational role of values in linking personality traits to political orientation. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 12 (2), 82–94.

    Social and environmental accountability of companies: Fukukawa, K., Shafer, W. E. and Lee, G. M. (2007). Values and attitudes toward social and environmental accountability: a study of MBA students. Journal of Business Ethics, 71 (4), 381-394.

    Interests: Brickman, S. J., Miller, R.B. and McInerney, D. M. (2005). Values, interests and environmental preferences for the school context. Australian Association of Educational Research, Sydney.

    Sodano, S. M. (2010). Integrating work and basic values into the spherical model of interests? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 78 (1), 1-10. Sagiv, L. (2002). Vocational interests and basic values. Journal of Career Assessment, 10 (2), 233–257.

    Nationalism: Roccas, S., Schwartz, S. H. and Amit, A. (2010). Personal Value Priorities and National Identification. Political Psychology, 31 (3), 2010.

    Human rights: Spini, D. and Doise, W. (1998). Organising principles of involvement in human rights and their social anchoring in value priorities. European Journal of Social Psychology, 28 (4), 603-622.

    Cohrs, J.C., Maes, J., Moschner, B. and Kielmann, S. (2007). Determinants of human rights attitudes and behaviour: a comparison and integration of psychological perspectives. Political Psychology, 28 (4), 441-470.

    Militarism & peacefulness: Cohrs, J.C., Moschner, B., Maes, J. and Kielmann, S. (2005). Personal values and attitudes toward war. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 11 (3), 293-312.

    Global poverty: Doran, C.J. (2009). The role of personal values in fair trade consumption. Journal of Business Ethics, 84 (4), 549-563.

    Global conflict: Fischer, R. and Hanke, K. (2009). Are societal values linked to global peace and conflict? Peace and Conflict, 15 (3), 227-248.

    Concern about environmental damage: Schultz, P.W., Gouveia, VV., Cameron, L.D., Tankha, G., Schmuck, P. and Frank, M. (2005). Values and their relationship to environmental concern and conservation

    behaviour. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36 (4), 457-475; Degenhardt, L. (2002). Why do people act in sustainable ways? Results of an empirical survey of lifestyle pioneers. In P. Schmuck and P.W. Schultz, eds. Psychology of sustainable development. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 123–147.

    Support of environmental policies: Lieserowitz, A. (2006). Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: the role of affect, imagery and values. Climatic Change, 77, 45-72.

    Sexism, racism and out-group prejudice: Hall, D. L., D. C. Matz, and W. Wood (2010, February). Why don’t we practice what we preach? A meta-analytic review of religious racism. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14 (1), 126-139; Schwartz, S. H. (2007). Universalism values and the inclusiveness of our moral universe. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38 (6), 711-728; Davidov, E., Meuleman, B., Billiet, J. and Schmidt, P. (2008). Values and support for Immigration: a cross-country comparison. European Sociological Review, 24 (5), 583-599; Feather, N.T. (2004). Value correlates of ambivalent attitudes toward gender relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30 (1), 3-12; Sawyerr, O.O., Strauss, J. and Yan, J. (2005). Individual value structure and diversity attitudes: the moderating effects of age, gender, race, and religiosity. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20 (6), 498-521;

    Duriez, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Soenens, B. and De Witte, H. (2007). The social costs of extrinsic relative to intrinsic goal pursuits: their relation with social dominance and racial and ethnic prejudice. Journal of Personality, 75 (4), 757-782; Roets, A., Van Hiel, C. and Cornelis, I. (2006) Does materialism predict racism? Materialism as a distinctive social attitude and a predictor of prejudice. European

    Journal of Personality, 20 (2), 155-168; Feather, N.T. and McKee, I.R. (2008). Values and prejudice: predictors of attitudes towards Australian Aborigines. Australian Journal of Psychology, 60 (2), 80-90.

    Immigration: Davidov, E. et al. (2008). Op cit.

    Gay rights: Haider-Markel, D.P. and Joslyn, M.R. (2008). Beliefs about the origins of homosexuality and support for gay rights: an empirical test of attribution theory. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72 (2), 291-310.

    Punishment or rehabilitation: McKee, I. and Feather, N. (2008). Revenge, retribution, and values: Social attitudes and punitive sentencing. Social Justice Research, 21 (2), 138-163.

    Big issues: Schwartz, S. H., Sagiv, L. and Boehnke, K. (2000). Worries and Values. Journal of Personality, 68 (2), 309–346.

    Moral behaviour: Lan, G., M. Gowing, S. McMahon, F. Rieger, and N. King (2008). A study of the relationship between personal values and moral reasoning of undergraduate business students. Journal of Business Ethics 78 (1), 121-139.

    Behaviours:

    Voting: Schwartz, S. H., Caprara, G. V. and Vecchione, M. (2010). Basic Personal Values, Core Political Values, and Voting: A Longitudinal Analysis. Political Psychology, 31 (3), 421–452.

    Purchasing decisions: Pepper, M., Jackson, T. and Uzzell, D. (2009). An examination of the values that motivate socially conscious and frugal consumer behaviours. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 33 (2), 126–136.

    Ethical purchasing: ibid.

    Political activism: Amit, A., Roccas, S. and Meidan, M. (2010). A group just like me: The moderating role of conservation values on social projection. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40 (6), 931–945.

    Altruism: Sagiv, L., Sverdlik, N. and Schwarz, N. (2011). To compete or to cooperate? Values’ impact on perception and action in social dilemma games. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41 (1), 64–77.

    Lönnqvist, J.-E., S. Leikas, S. Paunonen, V. Nissinen, and M. Verkasalo (2006). Conformism moderates the relations between values, anticipated regret, and behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32 (11), 1469-1481; Dietz, T., Kalof, L. and Stern, P. C. (2002). Gender, Values, and Environmentalism. Social Science Quarterly, 83 (1), 353–364; Milfont, T. L., J. Duckitt, and L. D. Cameron (2006). A Cross-cultural study of environmental motive concerns and their implications for proenvironmental behavior. Environment and Behavior, 38 (6), 745-767.

    Diet: Baker, S., Thompson, K. E., Engelken, J. and Huntley K., (2004). Mapping the values driving organic food choice: Germany vs the UK, European Journal of Marketing, 38 (8), 995-1012; Brunsø, K., Scholderer, J. and Grunert, K. (2004). Testing relationships between values and food-related lifestyle: results from two European countries. Appetite, 43 (2), 195-205; Dreezensa, E., Martijna, C., Tenbültb, P., Koka, G. and de Vriesb, N. (2005). Food and values: an examination of values underlying attitudes toward genetically modified and organically grown food products. Appetite, 44 (1), 115-122; Homer, P. M., and Kahle, L. R. (1988). A structural equation test of the value-attitude-behavior hierarchy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 (4), 638–646; and Grønhøj, A. and J. Thøgersen (2009). Like father, like son? Intergenerational transmission of values, attitudes, and behaviours in the environmental domain. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1 (2), 105–126.

    Career: Sagiv, L. (2002). Vocational interests and basic values. Journal of Career Assessment, 10 (2), 233–257.

    Volunteering: Caprara, G.V., Steca, P. (2007). Prosocial agency: The contribution of values and self-efficacy beliefs to prosocial behaviour across ages. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26 (3), 220–241.

    Empathy: Silfver, M., Helkama, K., Lönnqvist, J.E. and Verkasalo, M. (2008). The relation between value priorities and proneness to guilt, shame, and empathy. Motivation and Emotion, 32 (2), 69–80.

    Recycling: Thøgersen, J. (1996). Recycling and morality. A critical review of the literature. Environment and Behavior, 28 (4), 536–558; Hopper, J. R., & McCarl-Nielsen, J. (1991). Recycling as altruistic behavior. Normative and behavioral strategies to expand participation in a community recycling program. Environment and Behavior, 23 (2), 195–220.

    Electricity conservation: Grønhøj, A. and J. Thøgersen (2009). Like father, like son? Intergenerational transmission of values, attitudes, and behaviours in the environmental domain. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1 (2), 105–126.

    Litter: Schultz, P.W. et al. (2005). Op cit.

    Walking/cycling: Ibid.

    Ecological footprints: Brown, K.W. and Kasser, T. (2005). Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness and lifestyle. Social Indicators Research, 74 (2), 349–368.

  3. [3] Barr, S. (2003). Strategies for sustainability: citizens and responsible environmental behaviour. Area, 35 (3), 227–240.

Next: 2. How values work

  • Danjwelch

    I’m interested in the claim that values effect ecological footprints. I think it would be uncontroversial to suggest that in the UK socioeconomic position is the major determinant of average ecological footprint. Are we to infer that values have a distribution along a socioeconomic axis? Or should we infer that “influence” means simply that, an influence, as I’m sure a high number of variables are. Clearly if I value not causing environmental harm I am more likely to cause less environmental harm than someone in my same geo-sociodemographic position. I’m not trying to be flippant. But the issue is how determinat values are against other variables, surely? Incidentally, I find no reference in the Schwartz article cited to a correlation between values and ecological footprint, is the reference to well-being only. If so I would be really interested to have references to any articles claiming to show such a correlation.

    • Elena Blackmore

      Hi Dan – thanks for your question! Sorry, it’s a bit unclear – the references at [2] expand on that paragraph – the one for ecological footprint is: Brown, K.W. and Kasser, T. (2005). Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness and lifestyle. Social Indicators Research, 74 (2), 349–368. You can also see Kasser, T., 2011. Cultural Values and the Well-Being of Future Generations: A Cross-National Study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42(2), pp.206–215. (which controlled for GDP), and Kasser, T. Values and Ecological Sustainability : Recent Research and Policy Possibilities.

      Common Cause also doesn’t claim that values are the only variable – check out page 3. on how we use values, for example, particularly ‘Values are an important driver of behaviour (but there are other factors at work too)’ – http://valuesandframes.org/handbook/3-how-we-use-values/