Values: Definition and Meaning

Some values—those that serve as the foundation for moral judgments—seem to have a more visceral impact on judgment, affecting how people feel about a subject, circumstance, or option apart from their cognitive assessment of the subject, circumstance, or option. As a result, values can trigger both emotional (feeling) and cognitive (thinking) reactions. Whether a value is consciously considered during decision-making still impacts judgments and behavior. In other words, a value can be connected to a decision without being explicitly connected.

What is Value?

When values are significant to the actor and relevant to the situation, they are more likely to be activated and impact behavior. Values and behavior are connected. A poll of customers at natural food markets and supermarkets evaluated several personal values. Customers who prioritized self-actualization and self-respect more than those who placed a higher value on security and belonging said they visited natural food stores more frequently and spent more money there. Values can be researched at the individual level, just as other cognitive structures. While discussing attitudes as a group-level phenomenon is uncommon, values can be examined at the societal or group level. In other words, societies, cultures, and other social groups have values-based norms, priorities, and rules that specify what actions people should do to act in a "proper," "moral," and "valuable" way. Conservative or liberal values, traditional or progressive values, religious or secular values, and so on can all be used to categorize a society, political party, or geographic area.

Theory of Basic Human Values

Schwartz has developed a major theory of values and pinpoints ten distinctive values in motivation. The value theory offers a definition of values that identifies six key elements that are frequently written about by theorists but are not explicitly stated in their works

  • Values are opinions strongly related to emotion, and values are filled with emotion when awakened. People who place a high value on independence become agitated when it is in danger, depressed when they can do nothing to protect it, and joyful when they can enjoy it.

  • Desirable objectives that spur action are referred to as values. People who value social order, fairness, and helpfulness highly are driven to work toward achieving these objectives.

  • Values go beyond particular deeds and circumstances. For instance, values could be important at work or school, in politics or business, or even with friends or strangers. This characteristic separates values from norms and attitudes, typically referring to particular behaviors, things, or circumstances.

  • Values act as benchmarks or criteria. The choice or assessment of initiatives, regulations, individuals, and occasions is influenced by values. People make decisions on what is good or terrible, valid or unjustified, worthwhile or avoidable, on the potential repercussions for their deeply held values. However, people need to consider how their ideals affect daily decisions consciously. Values become conscious when decisions or actions one considers have contradictory effects on several values one holds dear.

  • Values are ranked according to how important they are concerning one another. The values that define people as individuals establish an organized set of priorities. Do they place more value on fairness or success, novelty or tradition? This hierarchical structure also sets values apart from beliefs and behaviors.

  • The relative weights of various values serve as directives for action. Usually, any attitude or conduct has effects on multiple values. In contrast to hedonism and stimulation values, going to church, for instance, may express and support tradition and conformity values.

Factors affecting values

In one study, 999 participants, with 52% of them being women, had their values evaluated. The structure of values and the mean judgments of the importance of each value did not change by gender. Age and the relevance of particular values were associated; older people valued tradition and charity, and accomplishment and hedonism were lower. Education also impacted importance; as education levels rose, people rated stimulation, self-direction, and universalism higher and rated tradition, conformity, and power lower. Because values are universal, they can offer coherence or integration between a person's various roles. Despite being universal, they also impact various particular attitudes, decisions, and actions.

For instance, our perspectives regarding public policy are influenced by our values. Therefore, one's attitude toward paying higher taxes to aid the poor is tied to how much value one place on personal property and social equality. While those who value property more will be against increased taxes, those who value equality more will favor higher taxes to aid the poor. It should be difficult for those who believe these ideals are equally important to make a choice. Choices are connected to values.

The Nature of Values

When we consider our values, we consider the things in life that are significant to us. Each of us has a variety of values that are important to various degrees, such as success, safety, and charity. For some people, a certain value may be essential while being unimportant to others.


People distrust others if they think they have different values, partly because of the presumption that values and behavior are related. Knowing someone has values gives one the impression that they are also aware of their behavior in different scenarios. Despite the widespread perception that values determine behavior, the influence of values on behavior depends on the opportunities and limits of the context. Individual values are related to behavior and decisions, but only sometimes if they are mobilized or made apparent. However, values are unlikely to affect judgment and conduct if they are not present in mind. Therefore, when cultural values are mobilized or made prominent, they also influence collective behavior and individual choices to some extent.