Values: Schwartz theory of basic values

Six main features of values are described:

  1. “Values are beliefs linked inextricably to affect. When values are activated, they become infused with feeling”.
  2. “Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action.”
  3. “Values transcend specific actions and situations. … This feature distinguishes values from norms and attitudes that usually refer to specific actions, objects, or situations.”
  4. “Values serve as standards or criteria. Values guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people, and events. People decide what is good or bad, justified or illegitimate, worth doing or avoiding, based on possible consequences for their cherished values. But the impact of values in everyday decisions is rarely conscious. Values enter awareness when the actions or judgments one is considering have conflicting implications for different values one cherishes.”
  5. “Values are ordered by importance relative to one another. People’s values form an ordered system of priorities that characterize them as individuals.”
  6. “The relative importance of multiple values guides action. Any attitude or behaviour typically has implications for more than one value. … The tradeoff among relevant, competing values guides attitudes and behaviors… Values influence action when they are relevant in the context (hence likely to be activated) and important to the actor.”

The Schwartz theory of basic values identifies “ten basic personal values that are recognized across cultures and explains where they come from.” They are:

  1. Self-Direction – Defining goal: independent thought and action–choosing, creating, exploring.”
  2. Stimulation – Defining goal: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.”
  3. Hedonism – Defining goal: pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.”
  4. Achievement – Defining goal: personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.”
  5. Power – Defining goal: social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.”
  6. Security – Defining goal: safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.”
  7. Conformity – Defining goal: restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.”
  8. Tradition – Defining goal: respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture or religion provides.”
  9. Benevolence – Defining goal: preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).”
  10. Universalism – Defining goal: understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.”

schwartz - theoretical model of relations among ten motivational types of value

The values are organized along two “bipolar dimensions” to “summarize the oppositions between competing values”. As the figure above shows, “one dimension contrasts ‘openness to change’ and ‘conservation’ values. This dimension captures the conflict between values that emphasize independence of thought, action, and feelings and readiness for change (self-direction, stimulation) and values that emphasize order, selfrestriction, preservation of the past, and resistance to change (security, conformity, tradition). The second dimension contrasts ‘self-enhancement’ and ‘self-transcendence’ values. This dimension captures the conflict between values that emphasize concern for the welfare and interests of others (universalism, benevolence) and values that emphasize pursuit of one’s own interests and relative success and dominance over others (power, achievement). Hedonism shares elements of both openness to change and self-enhancement.”

“Although the theory discriminates ten values, it postulates that, at a more basic level, values form a continuum of related motivations. This continuum gives rise to the circular structure.”

There are two major methods for measuring the basic values: the Schwartz Value Survey and the Portrait Values Questionnaire.

Reference: Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2, 1. Online:

Posted: February 2017
Last modified: February 2017