Theory of basic human values

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Circle chart of values in the theory of basic human values[1]

The theory of basic human values is a theory of cross-cultural psychology and universal values that was developed by Shalom H. Schwartz. The theory extends previous cross-cultural communication frameworks such as Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Schwartz identifies ten basic human values, each distinguished by their underlying motivation or goal, and he explains how people in all cultures recognize them. There are two major methods for measuring these ten basic values: the Schwartz Value Survey[2] and the Portrait Values Questionnaire.[3]

A particular value can conflict or align with other values, and these dynamic relationships are typically illustrated using a circular graphic in which opposite poles indicate conflicting values.

In a 2012 article, Schwartz and colleagues refined the theory of basic values with an extended set of 19 individual values that serve as "guiding principles in the life of a person or group".[4]

Motivational types of values[edit]

The theory of basic human values recognizes eleven universal values, which can be organized in four higher-order groups. Each of the eleven universal values has a central goal that is the underlying motivator.[1][5]

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.

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. Values can lightly or more strongly oppose each other, which has led to the organization 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.[1]

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:

  1. Power and Achievement – social superiority and esteem
  2. Achievement and Hedonism – self-centered 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. The structure of Schwartz's 10-value type model (see graph above) has been supported across over 80 countries,[1][6][7] gender,[8] various methods such as importance ratings of values (using the surveys listed below), direct similarity judgment tasks, pile sorting, and spatial arrangement,[9] and even for how the values of other people, such as family members, are perceived.[10][11]

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 non-symmetrical 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.[12]

Portrait Values Questionnaire[edit]

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, it has also 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.

Ordering and group differences[edit]

The order of Schwartz's traits are substantially stable amongst adults over time. Migrants values change when they move to a new country, but the order of preferences is still quite stable. Motherhood causes women to shift their values towards stability and away from openness-to-change, but not fathers.[13]: 528 

Men are found to value achievement, self-direction, hedonism, and stimulation more than women, while women value benevolence, universality and tradition higher.[14]: 1012 

Relationship to personality[edit]

Personality traits using the big 5 measure correlate with Schwartz's value construct. Openness and extraversion correlates with the values related to openness-to-change (openness especially with self-direction, extraversion especially with stimulation); agreeableness correlates with self-transcendence values (especially benevolence); extraversion is correlated with self-enhancement and negatively with traditional values. Conscientiousness correlates with achievement, conformity and security.[13]: 530 


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.[15]

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.[16] However, this issue can be mitigated by providing respondents with an additional filter to evaluate the items they marked with high scores. When administering the Schwartz Value Survey in a coaching setting, respondents are coached to distinguish between a "must-have" value and a "meaningful" value. A "must-have" value is a value you have acted on or thought about in the previous 24 hours (this value item would receive a score of 6 or 7 on the Schwartz scale). A "meaningful" value is something you have acted on or thought about recently, but not in the previous 24 hours (this value item would receive a score of 5 or less).[17]

Another methodological limitations are the resulting ordinal, ipsatised scores that limit the type of useful analyses researchers can perform.[18]

Practical applications[edit]

Recent studies advocate that values can influence the audience's reaction to advertising appeals.[19] 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.[20] 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.

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).[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Schwartz, Shalom H. (1992), "Universals in the Content and Structure of Values: Theoretical Advances and Empirical Tests in 20 Countries", Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Volume 25, vol. 25, Elsevier, pp. 1–65, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(08)60281-6, ISBN 9780120152254
  2. ^ Schwartz, Shalom H. (1992). "Universals in the Content and Structure of Values: Theoretical Advances and Empirical Tests in 20 Countries". In Zanna, Mark P. (ed.). Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Volume 25. Vol. 25. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. pp. 1–65. doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(08)60281-6. ISBN 9780120152254.
  3. ^ Schwartz, Shalom (2005). "Robustness and fruitfulness of a theory of universals in individual values". Valores e Trabalho: 56–85.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Shalom H.; Cieciuch, Jan; Vecchione, Michele; et al. (October 2012). "Refining the theory of basic individual values" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103 (4): 663–688. doi:10.1037/a0029393. hdl:11573/482295. ISSN 1939-1315. PMID 22823292.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Bilsky, Wolfgang; Janik, Michael; Schwartz, Shalom H. (20 July 2010). "The Structural Organization of Human Values-Evidence from Three Rounds of the European Social Survey (ESS)". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 42 (5): 759–776. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/0022022110362757. ISSN 0022-0221. S2CID 145072790.
  7. ^ Schwartz, Shalom H.; Sagiv, Lilach (1 January 1995). "Identifying Culture-Specifics in the Content and Structure of Values". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 26 (1): 92–116. doi:10.1177/0022022195261007. ISSN 0022-0221. S2CID 145086189.
  8. ^ Struch, Naomi; Schwartz, Shalom H.; van der Kloot, Willem A. (1 January 2002). "Meanings of Basic Values for Women and Men: A Cross-Cultural Analysis". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 28 (1): 16–28. doi:10.1177/0146167202281002. ISSN 0146-1672. S2CID 145761157.
  9. ^ Coelho, Gabriel Lins de Holanda; Hanel, Paul H.P.; Johansen, Mark K.; Maio, Gregory R. (30 August 2018). "Mapping the Structure of Human Values through Conceptual Representations". European Journal of Personality. 33: 34–51. doi:10.1002/per.2170. ISSN 0890-2070.
  10. ^ Skimina, Ewa; Cieciuch, Jan (2015). "Value structure and priorities: Other-report account". Current Issues in Personality Psychology. 6 (3): 252–259. doi:10.5114/cipp.2018.72259. ISSN 2353-4192.
  11. ^ Hanel, Paul H. P.; Wolfradt, Uwe; Lins de Holanda Coelho, Gabriel; et al. (13 April 2018). "The Perception of Family, City, and Country Values Is Often Biased". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 49 (5): 831–850. doi:10.1177/0022022118767574. ISSN 0022-0221. S2CID 150126465.
  12. ^ Fischer, Ronald; Schwartz, Shalom H. (2011). "Whence Differences in Value Priorities?: Individual, Cultural, or Artifactual Sources". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 42 (7): 1127–1145. doi:10.1177/0022022110381429. S2CID 145812328.
  13. ^ a b Sagiv, Lilach; Schwartz, Shalom H. (2022-01-04). "Personal Values Across Cultures". Annual Review of Psychology. 73: 517–546. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-020821-125100. ISSN 1545-2085. PMID 34665670. S2CID 239034063.
  14. ^ Schwartz, Shalom H.; Rubel, Tammy (2005). "Sex differences in value priorities: Cross-cultural and multimethod studies". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 89 (6): 1010–1028. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.6.1010. ISSN 1939-1315. PMID 16393031.
  15. ^ Lindeman, Marjaana; Verkasalo, Markku (2005). "Measuring Values With the Short Schwartz's Value Survey". Journal of Personality Assessment. 85 (2): 170–178. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa8502_09. PMID 16171417. S2CID 29726564.
  16. ^ Hood, Jacqueline (2003). "The Relationship of Leadership Style and CEO Values to Ethical Practices in Organizations". Journal of Business Ethics. 43 (4): 263–273. doi:10.1023/A:1023085713600. S2CID 141390192.
  17. ^ Morris, Jacob J. (2 October 2018). Personal Values Assessment: Explore the 57 Values Fundamental to Human Motivation. Independently published. p. 8. ISBN 978-1791346959.
  18. ^ 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 (4): 335–347. doi:10.1080/00223890802107925. PMID 18584442. S2CID 205438768.
  19. ^ Piirto, Jane (2005). "I Live in My Own Bubble: The Values of Talented Adolescents". The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education. 16 (2–3): 106–118. doi:10.4219/jsge-2005-472. S2CID 122703601.
  20. ^ Beatty, Sharon E. (2005). "Alternative Measurement Approaches to Consumer Values: The List of Values and the Rokeach Value Survey". Psychology and Marketing: 181–200.
  21. ^ Liñán, Francisco (2014). "National culture, entrepreneurship and economic development: different patterns across the European Union". Small Business Economics. 42 (4): 685–701. doi:10.1007/s11187-013-9520-x. hdl:11441/69584. S2CID 154020317.