Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford


  • Jan CieciuchEmail author
  • Shalom H. Schwartz
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1509-1



In a broad sense, “values” refer to what people find important in life. Each of the three main theories of values in the psychology of personality and individual differences proposes a slightly different definition of values. Earliest was Allport (1961; Allport and Vernon 1931), who defined values in motivational terms as interests or dominating forces in life. Second was Rokeach (1973), who defined values in cognitive terms as enduring beliefs that a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence is personally or socially preferable. Most recently, Schwartz (1992) proposed a model that combines both these traditions. He defined values as beliefs (the cognitive element) that differ in their motivational content (the motivational element). More formally, Schwartz (1992) defined values as beliefs about “trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as the guiding principles in the life of a person or group.” The Schwartz model is currently the most widely used model in psychological research (Brosch and Sander 2016; Parks-Leduc et al. 2015).


Allport and Vernon (1931) introduced values into psychology as a construct that could best describe personality as a coherent system, unique to each person. Values are still usually treated as one of the basic dimensions for describing one’s personality.

Location of Values Within Personality

There are two main views of the location of values within personality. Both juxtapose values against personality traits. The first view treats values as motivational tendencies (Allport 1961) that complement the rather static description of personality in terms of personality traits (Cieciuch 2012). This view sees values as stable personality characteristics. The second view treats values as socio-cognitive constructs, beliefs, or mental representations (Maio 2010) that differ from dispositional personality characteristics. Schwartz’s approach treats values as consisting of both dynamic-dispositional and socio-cognitive elements. According to this model, values are beliefs about which goals are important (socio-cognitive interpretation), and values have a motivational basis (dynamic-dispositional interpretation). In terms of the three levels of personality that McAdams and Pals (2006) differentiated, values are characteristic adaptations located at the second level. That is, individuals’ values are a product of the interaction between biologically based dynamic dispositions (located at the first level) and social circumstances and experiences. Values are transformations of motivations into socially acceptable goals defined by one’s culture. In the process of socialization, people shape their mental representations of the goals and learn how to fulfill their basic motivations by pursuing these goals.

Structure and Content of Values

Schwartz (1992; Schwartz et al. 2012) suggest that all the different values recognized across cultures can be located on the circle that is formed by two basic motivational tendencies: protection versus growth and focus on self versus focus on other people or groups. These dimensions correspond to plasticity and stability (as two basic metatraits; Strus et al. 2014) and promotion and prevention (as two basic systems of self-regulation; Higgins 1998). Combining these two tendencies yields four broad groups of values. These are conservation values, which express a protection motivation and a social focus; self-enhancement values, which express a protection motivation and self-focus; openness to change values, which express a growth motivation and self-focus; and self-transcendence values, which express a growth motivation and social focus. These four “higher-order” values can be further divided into more narrowly defined values. The finest division proposed thus far includes the 19 distinct values defined in Table 1. A circular arrangement describes the relations among these values (Fig. 1). Adjacent values are compatible because they express similar motivations and can be pursued simultaneously. Values located on the opposite sides of the circle express incompatible motivations so that one is pursued at the expense of the other.
Table 1

The four higher-order values and more narrowly defined values (Adapted from Schwartz et al. 2012)

Higher-order values

More narrowly defined values


Benevolence-dependability – being a reliable and trustworthy member of the in-group

Benevolence-caring – devotion to the welfare of in-group members

Universalism-tolerance – acceptance and understanding of those who are different from oneself

Universalism-concern – commitment to equality, justice, and protection for all people

Universalism-nature – preservation of the natural environment

Humility – recognizing one’s insignificance in the larger scheme of things


Humility – recognizing one’s insignificance in the larger scheme of things

Conformity-interpersonal – avoidance of upsetting or harming other people

Conformity-rules – compliance with rules, laws, and formal obligations

Tradition – maintaining and preserving cultural, family, or religious traditions

Security-societal – safety and stability in the wider society

Security-personal – safety in one’s immediate environment

Face – security and power through maintaining one’s public image and avoiding humiliation


Face – security and power through maintaining one’s public image and avoiding humiliation

Power-resources – power through control of material and social resources

Power-dominance – power through exercising control over people

Achievement – personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards

Hedonism – pleasure and sensuous gratification for oneself

Openness to change

Hedonism – pleasure and sensuous gratification for oneself

Stimulation – excitement, novelty, and challenge in life

Self-direction-action – the freedom to determine one’s own actions

Self-direction-thought – the freedom to cultivate one’s own ideas and abilities

Fig. 1

The motivational continuum of values with different possibilities to divide the value circle (Adapted from Schwartz et al. 2012)

Individual Differences in Values

How do people differ with regard to values? People tend to recognize the same set of values, but they differ in the priority they ascribe to these values (Allport and Vernon 1931, Rokeach 1973; Schwartz 1992, Schwartz et al. 2012). The most important value for one person may be of minor importance to another person and of no importance to a third. People generally recognize that individuals differ in their value priorities, but that is only one type of individual difference in values. Below we present a short overview of the various types of individual differences in values, based on current conceptualizations in the psychology of personality and individual differences.

Value preferences. People differ in the importance they attribute to particular values, their value preferences. One can measure and compare individuals’ preferences using the 19 narrowly defined values or broader groupings of these values. Various available questionnaires measure values in adults and children (Schwartz and Cieciuch 2016). These questionnaires provide importance scores for each value useful for comparing individuals and groups.

Value hierarchies. People order their values in a loose hierarchy from most to least important. For example, the order of importance may be hedonism>security>stimulation>power for one person but security>power>stimulation>hedonism for another. People with different value hierarchies might not differ on all of their value preferences. These two people, for example, might attribute equal importance to security, but security is less important than hedonism for the first person and more important than hedonism for the second.

Correspondence of individual value hierarchies to the value circle. The circular model of values implies that the most important value in peoples’ hierarchies should be opposite in the circle from their least important value and that adjacent values in the circle should have similar importance. This is true on average across many people. However, individuals’ value hierarchies often differ somewhat from this pattern. So correspondence with the value circle is a type of individual difference (see Borg et al. 2017). Some people may even attribute high importance to values located on opposite sides of the circle. This suggests internal value conflict that may lead to poor well-being and value change.

Centrality of values to one’s identity. Values are one element in people’s self-concept or identity (Berzonsky et al. 2011). That is, people’s values are one of the aspects of self they consider when thinking about who they are. They play a central role in maintaining self-integrity (for instance, see the self-affirmation theory; Sherman and Cohen 2006). Two different people might give equal importance ratings to a given value in a questionnaire. However, they might differ in the centrality of that value, and even of values in general, to their identity. If values are more central to one’s identity, they are activated more easily and are therefore more likely to influence one’s thinking, feeling, decisions, and behavior. People may exhibit heroism or cruelty, even sacrificing their own lives or the lives of others in pursuit or defense of the values central to how they define who they are.

Relations of values to behavior. Individuals differ in the extent to which they act on the values they articulate and the extent to which their behavior reflects these values. Value-behavior discrepancies have many potential sources. People may not report their values accurately out of a lack of awareness of their actual preferences or in order to make a positive impression. People may not act on their values because they do not know what actions to take to express them, because they lack opportunities to do so, because they perceive that value-expressive actions have high social or material costs, or because they have conflicting value priorities that compete with one another. Individuals differ in how consistent the values they enact are with the values they claim for themselves (see Schwartz et al. 2017).

The number of values differentiated. Children differentiate an increasing number of values as they grow older (e.g., Döring et al. 2015). Across cultures, most adults can differentiate the 19 values in Fig. 1, but not all adults actually make these fine distinctions in practice (see Cieciuch et al. 2013; Davidov et al. 2008). Thus, individuals differ in how fine-tuned their value system is.

Value stability. Value preferences and hierarchies are quite stable, comparable to the stability of personality traits. But values do change over the life course, especially at younger ages (Cieciuch et al. 2016; Vecchione et al. 2016). Individuals differ in the stability of their value preferences, hierarchies, and other value characteristics described above.


The various disciplines of psychology and the social sciences are building on and extending the knowledge of values that research in the psychology of personality and individual differences is generating. Social psychology is applying the comprehensive catalogue of values discriminated in the model of values as a circular motivational continuum to study processes of valuing, social behavior, and beliefs. Developmental psychology is investigating how values are acquired, shaped, and developed. Cross-cultural psychology and sociology are identifying cultural value dimensions useful for describing cultural and societal differences and their implications for institutions and individuals. A recent volume (Brosch and Sander 2016) attests to the centrality of values in human life. It brings together the vast array of perspectives and knowledge on values that different sciences from neurology through psychology to economics, political science, and music are engaged in developing.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cardinal Wyszyński UniversityWarsawPoland
  2. 2.University of ZurichZürichSwitzerland
  3. 3.The Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  4. 4.National Research University-Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Ilan Dar-Nimrod
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustralia