Values: Schwartz theory of basic values

Purpose: To identify personal values that are robust across cultures and that can help explain diversity and conflict in values.

Description: Six main features, relevant to all values, are described first. This is followed by an outline of ten basic personal values, with a guide to which are congruent and which conflict.

Six main features of values

  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.”

These six features are relevant to all values.

Ten basic personal values

The Schwartz theory of basic values identifies ten broad personal values, which are differentiated by the underlying goal or motivation. These values are likely to be universal because they help humans cope with one or more of the following three universal requirements of existence:

  • needs of individuals as biological organisms
  • requisites of coordinated social interaction
  • survival and welfare needs of groups.

The ten broad personal values 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.”

Dynamic relations among the values

Relations among these 10 broad personal values are dynamic. Actions pursuing one value “have consequences that conflict with some values but are congruent with others.” This has “practical, psychological, and social consequences.” “Of course, people can and do pursue competing values, but not in a single act. Rather, they do so through different acts, at different times, and in different settings.”

The figure below provides a quick guide to values that conflict and those that are congruent. There are two bipolar dimensions. One “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, self-restriction, preservation of the past, and resistance to change (security, conformity, tradition).”

Tradition and conformity are located in a single wedge because they share the same broad motivational goal. Tradition is on the periphery because it conflicts more strongly with the opposing values.

“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.”

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

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

Schwartz’ work also examines relationships between different values in more detail, which is useful for a richer analysis of how values affect behaviour and attitudes, as well as the interests that they express.

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

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Posted: February 2017
Last modified: April 2020