Common Cause draws on research by an academic called Shalom Schwartz, who divides values into four overarching groups: openness-to-change, self-transcendence, self-enhancement, and conservation. Yeah, right, they’re a bit of a mouthful.


It also draws on work from researchers such as Grouzet and Kasser who use a similar model but that relates to goals.

Kasser Remade


When we're talking about Common Cause, we often just talk about two values groups that combine the two: ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’. This terminology is pretty familiar to many people now, and it’s particularly useful for telling a simple story of how our society has become more materialistic, more unequal and more selfish - shifting from intrinsic to extrinsic - like George Monbiot recently did in the Guardian.


But as with any simple story, it’s incomplete.

Here are some of the comments we sometimes hear:

a) “The terms are confusing” Intrinsic & extrinsic just sound quite similar, and also intrinsic sounds like it’s about what’s internal (i.e the self) and extrinsic what’s external (i.e. society, the natural world), which is a bit confusing, initially at least.

b) “This is binary / moralistic” People often paraphrase the message as intrinsic good and extrinsic bad. This is an over-simplification and often gives the mistaken impression that we’re making judgements about one side or the other, as usually happens in a simple two-sided model (though obviously some values are more associated with positive social and environmental outcomes).

c) “What about the other values?” Stimulation, hedonism, conformity, tradition and security values are neither intrinsic or extrinsic - but there are also interesting stories to be told about all of them. Security, in particular, is often singled out - sometimes mistaken for an ‘extrinsic’ value because of its proximity and because we often point out that when it’s engaged it shifts people towards materialism, prejudice and economic self-interest.

So we started wondering whether there were better ways of describing values.

Our discussions have included the following suggestions:

a) We could rename ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’
For example, this could be Common-interest vs. Self-interest / We-values vs. Me-values / Compassion vs. Competition… or something better. But this only really addresses the first (and, maybe partially, the second) criticism.

b) We could rename Schwartz’s four values groups
... maybe Care, Change, Power & Stability or Justice, Autonomy, Competition & Security. You can read an example in this blog about equality and discrimination across Europe.

When we’ve done work in areas such as human rights, equality and social justice, the values that don’t fit into the ‘intrinsic’ or ‘extrinsic’ boxes are often just as interesting. For example, stimulation values are associated with support for human rights laws, and tradition and security values with discrimination. When we were writing this report on the relationship between our values and prejudice, we found that talking about intrinsic and extrinsic just didn’t seem to cut it.

4 parts of us

c) We could talk about both models more. And talk about the interesting things about both!

d) We could keep things the way they are. Has the horse bolted? Do people get that there are nuances without it being spelled out more?

How do you describe values? Do you like the intrinsic / extrinsic terminology, and do you have any problems with it?

We’d really like to hear what you think - take the poll and join the discussion below...

[yop_poll id="4"]