Theory of Basic Human Values

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Theory of Basic Human Values Graphic

The Theory of Basic Human values, developed by Shalom H. Schwartz, is a theory in the field of intercultural research. The author considers the theory as an essential extension of previous approaches to comparative intercultural research theories,[1] such as the Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, and has been extensively applied in cross-cultural studies of individual values.[2] The Theory of Basic Human Values tries to measure Universal Values that are recognised throughout all major cultures. Schwartz’s theory identifies ten such motivationally distinct values and further describes the dynamic relations amongst them. To better graphically portray these relationships, the theory arranges the ten values in a circular structure.

In the 2012 article, Schwartz and colleagues presented a refined set of 19 basic individual values that serve as "guiding principles in the life of a person or group". [3]

Motivational types of values[edit]

The Theory of Basic Human Values recognises ten universal values, which can be organised in four higher-order groups. Each of the ten universal values has a central goal that is the underlying motivator.[1]

Openness to change[edit]

Self-Direction Independent thought and action—choosing, creating, exploring.
Stimulation Excitement, novelty and challenge in life.


Hedonism Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.
Achievement Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.
Power Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.


Security Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.
Conformity Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.
Tradition Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one's culture or religion provides.


Benevolence Preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).
Universalism Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.


Spirituality was considered as an additional eleventh value, however, it was found that it did not exist in all cultures.[4]

The structure of value relations[edit]

In addition to identifying the ten basic values, the theory also explains how these ten values are interconnected and influence each other, since the pursuit of any of the values results in either an accordance with one another (conformity and security) or a conflict with at least one other value (benevolence and power). Tradition and conformity share particularly similar motivational goals and consequently are consolidated in the same wedge.[4] Values can lightly or more strongly oppose each other, which has led to the organisation of the values in a circular structure along two bipolar dimensions. The first dimension is openness to change versus conservation, which contrasts independence and obedience. The second bipolar dimension is self-enhancement versus self-transcendence and is concerned on the one side with the interests of one-self and on the other side of the welfare of others. Although the theory distinguishes ten values, the borders between the motivators are artificial and one value flows into the next, which can be seen by the following shared motivational emphases:[4]

  1. Power and Achievement—social superiority and esteem;
  2. Achievement and Hedonism—self-centred satisfaction;
  3. Hedonism and Stimulation—a desire for affectively pleasant arousal;
  4. Stimulation and Self-direction—intrinsic interest in novelty and mastery;
  5. Self-direction and Universalism—reliance upon one's own judgement and comfort with the diversity of existence;
  6. Universalism and Benevolence—enhancement of others and transcendence of selfish interests;
  7. Benevolence and Tradition—devotion to one's in-group;
  8. Benevolence and Conformity—normative behaviour that promotes close relationships;
  9. Conformity and Tradition—subordination of self in favour of socially imposed expectations;
  10. Tradition and Security—preserving existing social arrangements that give certainty to life;
  11. Conformity and Security—protection of order and harmony in relations;
  12. Security and Power—avoiding or overcoming threats by controlling relationships and resources.

Furthermore, people are still able to follow opposing values through acting differently in different settings or at different times.

Measurement methods[edit]

Several models have been developed to measure the basic values to ensure that the values theory is valid independent of the methodology employed. The main differentiator between the Schwartz Value Survey and the Portrait Values Questionnaire is that the former is explicit, while the latter is implicit.

Schwartz Value Survey[edit]

The Schwartz Value Survey (SVS) reports values of participants explicitly, by asking them to conduct a self-assessment. The survey entails 57 questions with two lists of value items. The first list consist of 30 nouns, while the second list contains 26 or 27 items in an adjective form. Each item is followed by a brief description for clarification. Out of the 57 questions 45 are used to compute the 10 different value types, of which the number of items to measure a certain value varies according to the conceptual breath. The remaining 12 items are used to allow better standardisation in calculation of an individual’s value. The importance of each of value item is measured on a nonsymmetrical scale in order to encourage the respondents to think about each of the questions.

  • 7 (supreme importance)
  • 6 (very important)
  • 5, 4 (unlabelled)
  • 3 (important)
  • 2, 1 (unlabelled)
  • 0 (not important)
  • −1 (opposed to my values)

The survey has been conducted so far on more than 60,000 individuals in 64 nations.[5]

The Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ) has been developed as an alternative to the SVS. The PVQ has been created primarily for children from 11–14, however, also has shown to produce coherent results when given to adults. In comparison to the SVS the PVQ relies on indirect reporting. Hereby, the respondent is asked to compare himself/herself (gender-matched) with short verbal portraits of 40 different people. After each portrait the responded has to state how similar he or she is to the portrait person ranging from “very much like me” to “not like me at all”. This way of research allows to how the individual actually acts rather than research what values are important to an individual. Similar to the SVS the portraits for each value varies according to the conceptual breath.


One of the main limitations of this theory lies in the methodology of the research. The SVS is quite difficult to answer, because respondents have to first read the set of 30 value items and give one value the highest as well as the lowest ranking (0 or -1, depending on whether an item is opposed to their values). Hence, completing one questionnaire takes approximately 12 minutes resulting in a significant amount of only half-filled in forms.[6] Furthermore, many respondents have a tendency to give the majority of the values a high score, resulting in a skewed responses to the upper end.[7] Another methodological limitations are the resulting ordinal, ipsatised scores that limit the type of useful analyses researchers can perform.[8]

Practical applications[edit]

Recent studies advocate that values can influence the audience’s reaction to advertising appeals.[9] Moreover, in the case that a choice and a value are intervened, people tend to pick the choice that aligns more with their own values. Therefore, models such as the Theory of Basic Human Values could be seen as increasingly important for international marketing campaigns, as they can help to understand values and how values vary between cultures. This becomes especially true as it has been shown that values are one of the most powerful explanations of consumer behaviour.[10] Understanding the different values and underlying defining goals can also help organisations to better motivate staff in an increasingly international workforce and create an according organizational structure.

Recently, Schwartz's work—and that of Geert Hofstede—has been applied to economics research. Specifically, the performance of the economies as it relates to entrepreneurship and business (firm) creation. This has significant implications to economic growth and might help explain why some countries are lagging behind others when labor, natural resources, and governing institutions are equal. This is a relatively new field of study in economics, however the recent empirical results suggest that culture plays a significant role in the success of entrepreneurial efforts across countries—even ones with largely similar governmental structures. Francisco Liñán and José Fernandez-Serrano found that these cultural attributes accounted for 60% of the difference in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) variance per capita in countries within the European Union (EU).[11]


  1. ^ a b Schwartz, Shalom H. (2012). "An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values". Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. 2 (1). doi:10.9707/2307-0919.1116. 
  2. ^ Berry, John; Janek, Pandey; Poortinga, Ype (1997). Handbook of cross-cultural psychology (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. p. 77. ISBN 9780205160747. 
  3. ^ Schwartz, Shalom H.; Cieciuch, Jan; Vecchione, Michele; Davidov, Eldad; Fischer, Ronald; Beierlein, Constanze; Ramos, Alice; Verkasalo, Markku; Lönnqvist, Jan-Erik (2012-10). "Refining the theory of basic individual values". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103 (4): 663–688. doi:10.1037/a0029393. ISSN 1939-1315. PMID 22823292.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ a b c Schwartz, Shalom H. (1992). "Universals in the Content and Structure of Values: Theoretical Advances and Empirical Tests in 20 Countries". Advances in Experimental Psychology: 1–65. 
  5. ^ Fischer, Ronald; Schwartz, Shalom (2011). "Whence Differences in Value Priorities? : Individual, Cultural, or Artifactual Sources". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 42: 1127–1145. doi:10.1177/0022022110381429. 
  6. ^ Lindeman, Marjaana; Verkasalo, Markku (2005). "Measuring Values With the Short Schwartz's Value Survey". Journal of Personality Assessment. 85: 170–178. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa8502_09. 
  7. ^ Hood, Jacqueline (2003). "The Relationship of Leadership Style and CEO Values to Ethical Practices in Organizations". Journal of Business Ethics. 43: 263–273. 
  8. ^ Lee, Julie A.; Soutar, Geoffrey N.; Louviere, Jordan J. (2005). "An Alternative Approach to Measuring Schwartz's Values: The Best-Worst Scaling Approach". Journal of Personality Assessment. 90: 335–347. doi:10.1080/00223890802107925. 
  9. ^ Piirto, Jane (2005). "I Live in My Own Bubble: The Values of Talented Adolescents". The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education: 106–118. 
  10. ^ Beatty, Sharon E. (2005). "Alternative Measurement Approaches to Consumer Values: The List of Values and the Rokeach Value Survey". Psychology and Marketing: 181–200. 
  11. ^ Liñán, Francisco (2014). "National culture, entrepreneurship and economic development: different patterns across the European Union". Small Business Economics, vol 42, Issue 4, pp 685-701. 42: 685–701. doi:10.1007/s11187-013-9520-x.