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  • A Rose by Any Name? The Values Construct

    Meg J. RohanSchool of Psychology

    University of New South Wales

    Definitional inconsistency has been epidemic in values theory and research. An ab-breviated review of values-related theory and research is provided, and 5 aspects ofthe values construct that may have contributed to this inconsistency and the resultinglack of synthesis are discussed. A proposal for the process by which value priorities in-fluence attitudinal and behavioral decisions also is outlined. Attitudinal and behav-ioral decisions are shown to be traceable to personal value priorities, although thelink is indirect. The importance of 4 constructs in this process is highlighted. In thepast, personal value systems, social value systems, worldviews, and ideologies eachmay have been given the generic label values.

    When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather ascornful tone, it means just what I choose it tomeanneither more nor less.

    The question is, said Alice, whether you canmake words mean different things.

    The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which isto be masterthats all. (Carroll, 1865/1966, p. 185)

    Important theorists in a variety of fields have em-phasized the importance of peoples value priorities inunderstanding and predicting attitudinal and behav-ioral decisions. For example, Gordon Allport (1961)suggested that value priorities were the dominatingforce in life (p. 543) because they directed all of a per-sons activity toward their realization. Elsewhere,Allport (1955) berated psychologists for failing to con-sider that peoples value priorities influence their per-ception of reality (p. 89). Allports reprimand remainsrelevant even now because value theory and researchare at the fringe of the field. For example, no discus-sion of value theory appears in a sample of introduc-tory social psychology and personality textbookspublished in this decade (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert,1997; Baron & Byrne, 1997; Burger, 1997; Carducci,1998; Cloninger, 1996; Hewstone, Stroebe, &Stephenson, 1996; Liebert & Liebert, 1998; Myers,1996; Pervin, 1996; E. R. Smith & Mackie, 1995). Al-though Allports enthusiasm for the construct lost itsinfluence with the rise of behaviorism (behavioristswould have looked with disfavor at this unobservable

    construct), it does not explain why enthusiastic atten-tion to the values construct has not been revived nowthat there is a willingness to discuss and investigateother latent constructs such as schemas (e.g., Reich &Weary, 1998) and working models (e.g., Mikulincer,1998). Or, does the values construct exist in contempo-rary research under other names?

    The status of values theory and research suffers be-cause the word values is open to abuse and overuse bynonpsychologists and psychologists alike. For exam-ple, consider politicians (and others) moaning abouttheerosionof familyvalues.Whatdo theymeanbyfam-ily values? Peopleincluding psychologists, anthro-pologists, political scientists, and sociologistsseemtouse thewordvalues inHumptyDumptyfashion:Theymake it mean just what they choose it to mean.

    However, the problem is not new. Adler (1956), forexample, suggested that as a result of definitional con-fusion, the emphasis on values has slowed down theadvancement of the social sciences rather than fur-thered it (p. 279). One popular strategy for settlingconfusion is to invent new names for the construct.Clyde Kluckhohn (1951), whom Levitin (1968) de-scribed as having offered one of the most comprehen-sive analyses of the values construct, described theresult of this strategy:

    Reading the voluminous, and often vague and diffuse,literature on the subject in the various fields of learn-ing, one finds values considered as attitudes, motiva-tions, objects, measurable quantities, substantive areasof behavior, affect-laden customs or traditions, and re-lationships such as those between individuals, groups,objects, events. (C. K. M. Kluckhohn, 1951, p. 390)

    M. B. Smith (1969) also bemoaned the proliferation ofconcepts akin to values that were labeled, for example,


    Personality and Social Psychology Review Copyright 2000 by2000, Vol. 4, No. 3, 255277 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

    Preparation of this article was supported in part by an AustralianResearch Council Small Grant to Meg Rohan. Thanks to MarkZanna, David A. Kenny, Felicia Pratto, and Shalom Schwartz fortheir insightful comments and suggestions.

    Requests for reprints should be sent to Meg J. Rohan, School ofPsychology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052,Australia. E-mail:

  • as core attitudes or sentiments, preferences, cathexes,and valences (p. 98). D. T. Campbell (1963) provided alist of 76 concepts that included value, attitude, and mo-tive to illustrate that superficially quite dissimilar ter-minologies may be describing essentially the samefacts and processes (pp. 100101). D. T. Campbell(1963) suggested that the common characteristic ofthese concepts was that each could be viewed as coordi-nators of behavior. However, conceptualizing the ab-stract, trans-situational, implicit nature of these funda-mental coordinators of behavior is difficult.

    The purpose of this article is to review briefly workin the area of values, to propose a definition of the val-ues construct that distinguishes it from other relatedconstructs, and to propose a process by which valuepriorities coordinate peoples attitudinal and behav-ioral decisions. In tracing the link between value prior-ities and decisions, I highlight the importance of twoconstructsworldviews and ideologiesthat are of-ten labeled as values. Before presenting this proposal, Idiscuss aspects of the values construct that are at theheart of definitional diversity and confusion.

    At the Heart of the Confusion? FiveAspects of the Values Construct

    Aspect 1: Nouns and Verbs

    Use of the word value as a noun is recorded in theCompact Oxford English Dictionary (1991) as early as1303, to refer to the fairness and equivalence of theamount of a commodity in an exchange, and in 1398 tomean a standard of estimation. Use of value as a verb isregistered at a similar time, to describe the act of ap-praising the worthin terms of its appropriateness forexchangeof a commodity. However, its meaningwas later expanded to incorporate more abstract ex-changes and standards. Thomas and Znanieki(1918/1958) focused on this latter meaning in their fa-mous The Polish Peasant work.

    Value as a verb. The use of value as a verb im-plies that some higher level evaluation has taken place.When people say that they value (verb) a thing, person,action, or activity, they are expressing a deeper meaningassociated with that entity. So, they do not simply liketheentity; theyfeel that it isgood(themeaningofgood isdiscussed later) and relates to or somehow expressestheir underlying values (noun). The link between peo-ples liking for an entity and their value priorities hasbeen demonstrated empirically (see Feather, 1995; seealso Feather, 1982s).

    Little specific attention has been paid to the valuingprocess,but ithasbeensuggested, forexample, thatpeo-ple chronically and effortlessly engage in ascertaining

    the goodness or badness of the stimuli in their environ-ments (a drive to evaluate, Festinger, 1954; see alsoPratto, 1994). Norman Feathers (1996) comment shedslight on what may be taking place in the valuing process:We relate possible actions and outcomes within partic-ular situations to our value systems, testing them againstour general conceptions about what we believe is desir-able or undesirable in terms of our own value priorities(p. 224). Perhaps as a result of the lack of theoretical(and empirical) attention to the valuing process itself,programs designed to change peoples value priorities(e.g., the value self-confrontation method; Rokeach,1973) have met with limited success, and long-termchanges are disappointingly rare (e.g., see Kristiansen& Hotte, 1996). Investigation of the valuing processmay benefit from work such as Tetlocks (1986) exami-nations of ideological reasoning and work on the pro-cessing of information (e.g., the heuristicsystematicmodel and the elaboration likelihood model; see Eagly& Chaiken, 1993).

    Value as a noun. A dilemma that early valuestheorists and researchers faced was whether values(noun) should be investigated from the perspective ofthe entity being evaluated (e.g., How much value doesthe entity have?) or from the perspective of the persondoing the valuing (e.g., What does this person value?;see Feather, 1975, p. 3, for a discussion of this point).However, this issue essentially has been settled: Con-temporary values theorists investigate the values con-struct from the perspective of the person who evaluatesthe entities in his or her environment, and they seek tomeasure peoples priorities on various values in an ef-fort to understand the underlying motivations of peo-ples responses to their environments (see Rohan &Zanna, in press).

    An aid to peoples constant evaluation of the stimuliin their environments (valueasaverb)wouldbeacogni-tive structure in which information about past evalua-tionscouldbecollected(seeBargh,Chaiken,Govender,& Pratto, 1992). This information, if organized, thencould serve as a kind of analogical principle to use inevaluating and imbuing meaning to newly encounteredobjects and events. Humans ability to use analogy toimbue meaning and coherence to their experiences ishighly developed. Indeed, some cognitive scientists(e.g., Holyoak & Thagard, 1995, 1997; Thagard & Shel-ley, in press) have considered it so much a part of humanexperience that they have used computer simulations todemonstrate the ease with which analogies are used. Be-cause these analogical principles are relevant across sit-uations and time, they may be wha