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Original research article, the relation between human values and perceived situation characteristics in everyday life.

what is values research paper

  • Department of Social Psychology, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany

Values refer to abstract beliefs which serve as guidelines in peoples’ life and affect the way people and events are evaluated. Simultaneously, unlike attitudes, values transcend specific actions, and situations. While recent research showed that values are related to the attention and interpretation of situational information in standardized laboratory settings, up to date hardly any empirical work investigated how values relate to situation perception in daily life. In our study, we assessed the relation between the endorsement of human values and situation characteristics (i.e., the 8 DIAMONDS). Using the Day Reconstruction Method in two samples (German and US-American), we found that especially variance in the experience of negatively connoted situation characteristics were due to individual differences. Power was related to experiencing more deceptive situations, while the reversed pattern emerged for universalism and benevolence. Tradition was related to experiencing more aversive situations while self-direction was related to experiencing less situations high in adversity. Although, our results might provide some initial evidence for a relation between personal values and subjective situations experiences in everyday life, no clear pattern emerged and further investigation of the relation is necessary.


In his famous formula B = f (P, E), Lewin (1939 ) proposed that behavior (B) is a function of the person (P) and the environment (E). More precisely, behavior is a function of a person’s characteristics and his or her subjective experiences of the environment, but not necessarily determined by objective aspects of the environment. While there has been abundant research on how personality traits or differences in physical environment relate to behavior, up to date, subjective situation experience has mostly been overlooked ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). One major reason could be that while there are numerus and widely accepted taxonomies (e.g., the Big Five) to capture individual differences in personality traits; a generalized and accepted taxonomy to capture individual differences in situation experiences has been missing. However, in recent years the investigation of differences in the subjective situation experiences has become more and more popular, and thus various instruments to measure so-called situation characteristics have been published (see the overview by Horstmann et al., 2017 ). This new development enables us to obtain a more precise and comprehensive picture of human behavior as a function of individual differences, like personality traits or motivational orientations, and subjective situation experiences. The current work attempts to provide evidence on how basic motivational orientations (i.e., the Schwartz model of basic human values) relate to subjective situation experiences (i.e., the situational 8 DIAMONDS), and to behavior in everyday life. Using the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM; Kahneman et al., 2004 ) allows us to obtain information about peoples’ activities and contacts in everyday life, and how they subjectively experienced these situations. Our study advances previous research on how values relate to situational factors by using a novel approach to measure psychological relevant aspects of situations. In the following section we will introduce the concepts and discuss theoretical assumptions about the relation between values and subjective situation experience.

Values are abstract and context-independent beliefs about what people want to achieve in life, e.g., power. Values are motivational goals which refer to desirable end-states ( Schwartz, 1992 ). There are numerous values and each person holds a variety of values at the same time which differ in their importance ( Schwartz, 1992 ; Bardi and Schwartz, 2003 ). Over the decades, many different constructs and theories evolved around values (e.g., the equality-freedom model of ideology proposed by Rokeach, 1973 ). Up to date the most prominent one is the model of Basic Values proposed by Schwartz (1992) . The model assumptions have been extensively studied within different samples and in over 70 countries ( Schwartz and Rubel, 2005 ). Schwartz proposed 10 basic human values which differ in their underlying motivational base: benevolence, universalism, conformity, security, tradition, power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, and self-direction.

One key feature of the model are the detailed assumptions about the interrelation between values, i.e., compatibility and conflict between values. These conflicts and compatibilities between values can be modeled in a circular structure representing a motivational continuum. In this circumplex model, values which are adjunctive represent compatible motivational orientations while those on the other end of the circle represent opposing motivational orientations. The further away two values are located within the circle, the more dissimilar are their underlying motivations ( Schwartz, 1992 ). Within this motivational continuum, the 10 originally proposed values can further be divided into 19 more narrowly defined values ( Schwartz et al., 2012 ) or grouped into four higher order constructs based on two major dimensions.

The first dimension is the self-enhancement self-transcendence dimension (SET). Self-enhancement mainly consists of the values achievement and power as well as some part of hedonism. People valuing self-enhancement believe that for example success as well as showing competence is important in life. On the other side of that pol are self-transcendence values, namely benevolence and universalism. People who value self-transcendence believe that, e.g., equality and caring for others is important.

The second dimension is the openness-to-change conservation dimension (OC). The values self-direction and stimulation form the openness-to-change dimension; therefore, people valuing openness-to-change attribute high importance to creativity, freedom, and self-determination. On the other side of this pol is the conservation dimension consisting of conformity, security, and tradition. People valuing conservation believe it is important to, e.g., maintain the status quo and live in a safe surrounding. While the two pols of each dimension refer to opposing values, the dimension themselves are conceptualized as independent, e.g., a person valuing self-transcendence does not necessarily value openness-to-change.

Furthermore, there are some central assumptions about values. Among other things, they are supposed to transcend specific actions and situations, and at the same time they are standards which are used to evaluate people and events ( Schwartz, 1992 ). The first assumption implies that values represent motivational goals which are of importance independent from the specific task or situational factors. For example, a person who is concerned with protecting nature (part of universalism value) should try to act environment-friendly (at least to some extent) at home, but also in public or at the workplace. The second assumption implies that values are used to judge situations and their opportunities as well as consequences based on individual values. In combination, these assumptions suggest that situations people encounter in everyday life are overall judged based on individual values, and independently of specific factors, all encountered situations should be judged using the same value. Previous research has investigated how values relate to situational aspects (e.g., in a cooperative framed decision task valuing self-transcendence was related to cooperative behavior, Sagiv et al., 2011 ). However, none of those studies has measured perceived subjective situational differences using a valid and standardized instrument. Fortunately, recently a taxonomy has been developed which enables us to measure subjective differences and to capture psychologically relevant aspects of a situation, as outlined in what follows.

Research investigating situational factors has often focused on the situation as a whole, e.g., framing of situations ( Tversky and Kahneman, 1981 ), saliency of stimuli (e.g., Wit and Kerr, 2002 ), interpersonal communication (e.g., Tazelaar et al., 2004 ) and group size (e.g., Brewer and Kramer, 1986 ; De Cremer and Leonardelli, 2003 ). For example, studies investigating the bystander effect manipulated objective differences (i.e., number of people present) to examine differences in behavior. While the results show differences in behavior depending on the manipulation, i.e., depending on objective differences in the situation, the results do not allow drawing conclusions about differences in the subjective experience of the situation. Depending on the research question, examining subjective situation experience might sometimes not be relevant. However, to fully assess and understand how people act and feel, measurement of the situations they subjectively experience is needed ( Benet-Martínez et al., 2015 ).

In the last decades, many situation taxonomies were developed to measure situations. Up to date, however, none has found widespread acceptance (e.g., Moos, 1973 ; Van Heck et al., 1994 ; Kelly, 2003 ). Therefore, contrary to the assessment of personality traits, there still is no consensus on how to define and assess situations (e.g., Hogan, 2009 ; Rauthmann et al., 2015a ). Most approaches build on the theoretical background that any given situation can be described using three aspects, namely cues , characteristics, and classes . Cues refer to physical stimuli which can be objectively quantified in a situation, e.g., how many people are present or which objects are present. Generally, people should agree about situation cues, e.g., either there is a table in the room or there is no table in the room. Cues are the most frequently inquired aspects of situations in psychological studies (e.g., there are other people present or not). Characteristics are used to describe psychological relevant aspects of situations (e.g., a fearsome situation). Situation characteristic should not be mistaken for the overall affective ratings of situation by the person in the situation. For example, people may agree that a situation is negative, but the specific affective reaction could be anxiety, anger or sadness. Classes refer to groups of situations which are clustered together based on similar cues or characteristics, which are used to describe these situations. For example, “meeting friends” and “teaching a class” could both be grouped into the class “social situation,” although there are differences in cues and characteristics.

From a psychological perspective, situation characteristics might be the most interesting aspects of situations as they measure the psychological (subjective) meaning of perceived situational cues ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). Hence, they may be better predictors for behavior than objective situational cues. Sherman et al. (2013) showed that situations with similar characteristics evoke similar behavior independent of the situation cues. Recently, Rauthmann et al. (2014) proposed that situation characteristics can be captured in a parsimonious taxonomy, which can be used to classify and compare situations. Based on one frequently used measure for situational characteristics (i.e., Riverside Situational Q-Sort; Wagerman and Funder, 2009 ), they identified eight major situation characteristics: The situational 8 DIAMONDS. Those dimensions are: Duty, Intellect, Adversity, Mating, pOsitivity, Negativity, Deception, and Sociality. Duty captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing work, attending to tasks, making decisions and fulfilling duties. Intellect captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing intellectual and cognitive demands as well as possibilities to show intellectual prowess. Adversity captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing problems, threats, conflicts, and criticism. Mating captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing opportunities for sex, love and romance, that is finding or maintaining potential mates. Positivity captures to what extent a situation is perceived as pleasant, easy, clear, and enjoyable. Negativity captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing the possibilities for any kind of negative feelings (e.g., frustration, anger, etc.) to emerge. Deception captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing opportunities for betrayal, deception and hostility. Sociality captures to what extent a situation is perceived as containing possibilities for socializing, relationship formation, and interpersonal warmth. The Situational Eight emerged as dimensions on which different raters ( in situ and ex situ ) substantially agreed showing that even if people themselves did not actually experienced a situation they agreed on how to characterize the situation along the dimensions ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ).

The 8 DIAMONDS are also related to situational cues, e.g., working was characterized by high duty and negativity as well as low positivity ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). In addition, the 8 DIAMONDS are associated with a wide range of self-rated behavior, e.g., behaving competitive was positively related to the experience of deception and negatively to sociality ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). Despite their short history, the 8 DIAMONDS have been widely used. For example, Brown and Rauthmann (2016) investigated the relation between age and situation characteristics showing that mean-level patterns are related to opportunities and constraints at various ages (e.g., duty peaked among those people in their 40s which can be considered a phase in which working and caring for a family is common). Serfass and Sherman (2015) collected and rated situation information given in Twitter tweets over a period of 2 weeks. They found that during typical working hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) tweet information described situations high in duty, while sociality peaked in the late afternoon and early evening. Overall, the tweets describing deceptive or aversive situations were low. In line with their finding, Guillaume et al. (2016) compared situation experiences across cultures finding that on average people around the world experience similar and largely pleasant situations in the evening. The usefulness of considering situation characteristics to investigate human experiences was also shown in a study by Kocjan and Avsec (2017) . Their results indicate that situations high in positivity and intellect promote flow experiences. Using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM), Sherman et al. (2015) found that the 8 DIAMONDS predicted behavior independent of personality. Their results showed that for example people who on average reported experiencing more deception showed less honest behavior.

Recent research has shown that people mostly agree on the characteristics of situations ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ), and that on average 70% of the variance in situation experiences is due to differences between situations. However, that implies that 30% of the variance is due to individual differences ( Sherman et al., 2015 ), and it has been shown that situations experienced over time by one individual tend to be more similar to each other compared to situations experienced by others ( Sherman et al., 2015 ). For example, people who scored high on extraversion, reported to experience more situations high in sociality ( Sherman et al., 2015 ). Another study found that distinctiveness of situation stimuli construction is associated with personality ( Todd and Funder, 2012 ). Taken together these studies show that people, at least partly, shape their experienced situations and therefore their behavior may be based on a subjective experience of situations.

In order to understand individual differences in situation perception, recent research has mainly focused on personality traits ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). However, situation characteristics often capture perceived opportunities and requirements for the emergence of different emotional, cognitive and behavioral outcomes in situations. Studies have shown that values lead to giving more attention to information cues that are consistent with one’s personal values or risk the attainment of those values ( Crick and Dodge, 1994 ; Verplanken and Holland, 2002 ). Based on those findings, it seems plausible that values are also related not just to cues, but also to perceived situation characteristics, especially considering that Schwartz (1992) proposed that values are used to evaluate actions, policies, and people.

There are two main ways how values could refer to situation experience: (1) by situation selection and (2) by situation construal ( Rauthmann et al., 2015b ). Situation selection means that people consciously or unconsciously seek out situations which fit for example to their values. Situation construal refers to the distinct subjective interpretations of situational cues due to individual differences. Up to date, there has been no empirical investigation of the relation between values and situation selection or situation construal. The present contribution addresses this gap in research by examining how values relate to situation characteristics in everyday life.

The relation between Schwartz values and the Big Five ( Roccas et al., 2002 ; Fischer and Boer, 2015 ; Parks-Leduc et al., 2015 ) as well as the relation between the Big Five and situation characteristics ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 , 2015b ) have been examined. Extraversion was positively related to experiencing sociality and adversity as well as positively to self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement and power. The conservation values – security, conformity and tradition – were negatively related to extraversion. Openness was positively related to intellect and universalism, self-direction and stimulation; while it was negatively related to conservation values and power. Agreeableness was positively related to sociality and to self-transcendence values, conformity and tradition. Agreeableness was negatively related to adversity and deception, as well as openness-to-change values and self-enhancement values. Conscientiousness was positively related to duty and sociality, and achievement as well as security and conformity. It was negatively related to adversity, negativity and deception, as well as to universalism and stimulation. Neuroticism was positively related to negativity and tradition, and negatively to positivity and achievement.

Based on those and other findings as well as theoretical considerations (i.e., the circumplex structure of the value model), we make several specific assumptions about the relation between values and situation characteristics.

We assume that conformity, tradition, security as well as achievement are positively related to Duty. On a conceptual level, it seems plausible that especially conformity has a strong relation with duty. Conformity entails the tendency to comply with rules and the avoidance of harming social norms. Therefore, we assume that people valuing conformity are more likely to experience situations high in Duty. Additionally, achievement, but not power should be positively related to duty. Experiencing duty refers to, e.g., task-orientated thinking and focusing on minor details, which on a conceptual level seems closer to valuing achievement (i.e., showing competence, being ambitious) compared to power (i.e., authority, social prestige). There are different ways to fulfill achievement values, and paying attention to details or working carefully, may be one way to show competence. Moreover, studies have shown that people valuing achievement are willing to study late at night although they are already well-prepared for an exam. This behavior might also be a part of experiencing a sense of duty to study.

Like the personality trait openness, we assume that universalism as well as stimulation and self-direction are positively related to intellect. On a conceptual level, stimulation and self-direction seem more fitting to the intellect dimension, i.e., people might actively seek out situations which are stimulating and call for creative and independent thinking (i.e., search for intellectual stimulation). Behaviors that have been associated with self-direction and stimulation are among others breaking out of the routine to engage in some stimulating task or actively seeking out information to form an opinion about current news-topics. Both behaviors can on a conceptual level be related to situations high in intellect.

A study by Sagiv and Schwartz (2004) found that conservation values were associated with pursuing conventional career paths, while openness-to-change values were associated with pursuing artistic and investigative professions. Additionally, conservation values were negatively associated employees’ beliefs and tendency to act creative at work, while the opposing pattern emerged for openness-to-change values ( Dollinger et al., 2007 ; Kasof et al., 2007 ).

A sub-facet of the universalism value is broad-mindedness, which contains the belief that others should be free to express their ideas and views ( Hunt and Miller, 1968 ). This idea is also contained in the intellect item “Situation affords an opportunity to express unusual ideas or points of view” ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). In addition, the three values are adjunctive values, and as such they should relate to similar outer constructs.

Adversity and Deception

We assume that power, achievement and stimulation are positively related to the experience of adversity and deception. People who attribute high importance to showing competence, having control over others or seeking stimulation should be more likely to seek out competitive or risky situations, i.e., situations high in adversity. In line with the proposed assumptions of the circumplex value model and the findings mentioned above, conservation as well as self-transcendence should be negatively related to adversity and deception.

Mating seems to be more of a basic evolutionary motif and therefore we do not assume that it relates to any specific value.

Positivity and Negativity

We do not assume that any specific value is related to positivity and negativity. These situation characteristics focus more affective aspects of situations than for example duty. Considering these affective perception, we assume that there are more based on a fit between personal values and opportunities in a situation. That means if a situation fits with an individual’s values than the situation should be perceived as having the potential for a pleasant experience. Contrary, if there is a misfit between personal values and opportunities in a situation than people should perceive the situation as containing more potential for negative feelings ( Biber et al., 2008 ). Additionally, negativity was primarily correlated with neuroticism ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ) which in turn was only marginally related to any values ( Roccas et al., 2002 ).

Stimulation and self-direction should be positively related to sociality. Regarding the content, sociality is particularly tied to the trait extraversion ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ), which in turn is consistently associated with openness-to-change values ( Roccas et al., 2002 ; Fischer and Boer, 2015 ; Parks-Leduc et al., 2015 ).

In addition, we assume to find roughly the same variability in situation experiences as found in previous studies (i.e., 70%; Sherman et al., 2015 ). To test our assumptions, we conducted a study using the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) to examine relations between values and situation characteristics in everyday life.

Materials and Methods

Participants and procedure.

The study consists of two samples. The first sample consisted of 154 US-American participants (87 women, M age = 36.1 years) who were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk. Participants received $3 for their participation. The second sample consisted of 84 German undergraduate students (52 women, M age = 22.9 years) who were recruited at Ulm University and received 2€ (approximately $2.50) as compensation. Overall, we analyzed the data of 238 participants (139 women, M age = 29.5 years) to investigate the relation between basic human values and situation characteristics in everyday life. Data was collected online using the survey software Unipark. Participants first answered several questionnaires including basic human values and subjective well-being and were then asked to recall their activities and contacts on their last working day. In a last step they answered structured questions about the activities on their last working day. The American sample received English versions of the questionnaires, and the German sample German versions. Data collection was part of a bigger project; therefore, we only report the measures relevant for this article.


Basic human values.

The importance participants attributed to each of the 10 values as guiding principles in their life was measured using the Portrait Values questionnaire (PVQ; Schwartz et al., 2001 ). In Sample 1 a short version with 21 items ( Schwartz et al., 2001 ) and in Sample 2 a long version with 57 items was used ( Schwartz et al., 2012 ). Each item consists of a description of a person (“portrait”) and respondents rate how similar they see themselves to the portrayed target person on a scale ranging from ( 1) very dissimilar to (7) very similar (in Sample 2 the scale ranged from ( 1) very dissimilar to (6) very similar ). A self-direction sample item reads “Thinking up new ideas and being creative is important to him. He likes to do things in his own original way.” In Sample 1, alpha reliabilities of the PVQ indexes ranged from Cronbach’s alpha = 0.43 (tradition) to 0.77 (stimulation). Considering that the PVQ-21 scale only consisted of two items per scale (3 items for universalism), the internal consistencies are satisfying. In Sample 2, alpha reliabilities of the PVQ indexes ranged from Cronbach’s alpha = 0.57 (hedonism) to 0.87 (benevolence). For the reported statistical analyses, we computed ipsative value scores as recommended by Schwartz (1992) . Ipsative scores represent the relative importance of one value compared to the other values instead of the absolute importance.

The Day Reconstruction Method

The original DRM-material ( Kahneman et al., 2004 ) consists of three sub-sets; we used the original Set 2 and a revised form of Set 1 and Set 3 in our study. First, participants were presented with the PVQ (i.e., Set 1 ). Then, in Set 2 , participants were instructed to complete a diary referring to their last working day. Usually the last working day was also the previous day, however, some MTurk workers participated on a Monday, therefore we especially instructed them to think about their last working day. Participants were asked to write down their day by structuring it in chronological episodes. Like in the original DRM instructions, we instructed people to think about their day as if they were watching a movie and so each “movie scene” could be an episode. Participants were told that there is no predefined frame of what constitutes an episode, rather the beginning and end of an episode could be connoted by a change in location, a change in interaction partners or change in activities. After reading the instructions, participants were presented with a maximum of 30 open text items (10 for the morning, 10 for midday, 10 for the evening). It was not possible to enter the notes for the evening episodes before the notes of the morning episode to ensure that participants reported in a chronological order. For each episode, participants indicate the duration and made personal notes. They were informed that the notes were completely private and that the researchers would not read or analyze their personal notes. The notes were only presented to them in Set 3 to support their recall process. Finally, in Set 3 , participants answered structured questions about each episode. For each episode they selected what they were doing (14 categories, e.g., commuting) and who they had contact with (7 categories, e.g., spouse), multiple responses were possible. In addition, participants reported their affect during each episode and the situation characteristics of each episode. Finally, participants rated their day as a whole on a scale from (1) terrible to (9) wonderful . In total, the 238 participants reported 2936 episodes (Sample 1: 1899, Sample 2: 1037). That is on average 12 reports per participant.


In Sample 1, situation characteristics were measured using the S-8 ( Rauthmann and Sherman, 2016 ). The S-8 captures the 8 DIAMONDS with one item per dimension. A Duty sample item reads “Does work need to been done?” Participants were asked to rate how characteristic the items were for the situation they had just reported on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from (1) extremely uncharacteristic to (7) extremely characteristic of this situation . In Sample 2, we used the RSQ-32 inventory ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ), which includes four items per dimension. Responses were given on a 9-point Likert scale ranging from (1) extremely uncharacteristic to (9) extremely characteristic of this situation .

In both samples and in line with previous findings ( Schwartz and Bardi, 2001 ), benevolence and self-direction were the values attributed with the most importance; tradition and power were the values attributed with the least importance. Additionally, in both samples, mean situation experience was also remarkably similar. Throughout the day, situations high in positivity were most common, followed by situations high in duty and sociality, while experiencing situations high in adversity and deception was relatively rare. These results are in line with previous findings about the 8 DIAMONDS using the ESM ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ; Sherman et al., 2015 ), and indicate that people were on average able to reconstruct their memories successfully. Descriptive data is displayed in Table 1 .


TABLE 1. Mean, standard deviation and variance observed in the 8 DIAMONDS.

Preliminary Analysis

To obtain a first understanding of the relation between values and situation characteristics in daily life, we conducted Pearson’s correlations between values and situation characteristics. All correlations are displayed in Tables 2 , 3 .


TABLE 2. Correlations of the 10 types of values.


TABLE 3. Correlations of the 8 DIAMONDS with the 10 types of values.

Relations Between Values

Overall, in both samples the relations are in line with the model’s assumptions, that is adjunctive values are positively related while opposing values are negatively correlated with each other. However, there were some unusual relations. In Sample 1, tradition was not significantly related to security. Also self-direction was negatively related to hedonism and not significantly related to stimulation in Sample 1. In Sample 2, conformity was negatively related to opposing values (i.e., self-direction and stimulation), however, it was not significantly related to adjunctive values (i.e., tradition and security).

Relations Between Values and Situation Characteristics

In Sample 1, universalism as well as benevolence were significantly negatively related to adversity, negativity and deception. Universalism was also marginally significant negatively related to mating, while benevolence was negatively related to intellect and marginally significant positively to sociality. Conformity and tradition were positively related to adversity and negativity. Conformity was also positively related to deception, while tradition was negatively related to intellect and marginally significant positively with mating. Security showed the opposite pattern, that is, it was negatively related to all situation characteristics, expect for positivity and sociality (none significant relations). Power was positively related to adversity, negativity and deception. Achievement was only positively related to deception. No significant relation between hedonism and any of the 8 DIAMONDS emerged. Stimulation was only positively related to adversity. Self-direction was negatively related to all DIAMONDS, except for duty and positivity (none significant relations). In Sample 2, only a few significant associations emerged. Benevolence was negatively related to deception. Conformity was negatively related adversity and mating. Tradition was positively related to all DIAMONDS, except for intellect and positivity (none significant relations). Power was significantly positively related to deception. Hedonism was significantly negatively related to intellect. No significant relations emerged for universalism, security, achievement, stimulation and self-direction. In sum, the pattern differs immensely between the samples. Possible explanations and implications are discussed in the general discussion.

Main Analysis

In both samples episodes were nested within participants, therefore all following analyses used multilevel modeling with participants as nested factors. First, we estimated unconditional cell mean models for each situation characteristic to analyze how much variability in the experience of situation characteristics was between versus within participants. The variance components, intraclass correlations (ICC), intercepts and number of observation for each analysis are displayed in Table 4 . All situation characteristics displayed sizeable between person variance (Sample 1: τ 00 , M = 1.24, SD = 0.26; Sample 2: τ 00 , M = 1.04, SD = 0.18), but even larger within person variance (Sample 1: σ, M = 2.58, SD = 1.9, Sample 2 σ, M = 2.83, SD = 1.46). The ICCs ranged from 0.14 to 0.85 ( M = 0.42) in Sample 1 and from 0.14 to 0.51 in Sample 2 ( M = 0.31). Compared to studies using the ESM ( Sherman et al., 2015 ), the resulting ICCs for adversity, negativity and deception differed greatly indicating that for those situation characteristics differences in experience were mainly explained by individual differences instead of differences between the reported episode. For all other situation characteristics most variance was due to differences between episodes.


TABLE 4. Variance components, intraclass correlations (ICC), intercepts and number of observation.

Next, we used values as predictors of situation experience by estimating “means-as-outcomes” regression models ( Cohen et al., 2003 ). That means, we predicted each DIAMONDS score with the value hypothesized to be associated with. Our analytic approach is based on the analyses by Sherman et al. (2015) . The results for each model are displayed in Table 5 (Sample 1) and Table 6 (Sample 2). The indices of fit for the models are also reported in the Tables 5 , 6 . The marginal R (R m ) can be interpreted as the model fit for only the fixed effects, while the conditional R (R c ) can be interpreted as the overall fit of the model ( Nakagawa and Schielzeth, 2013 ). We give one detailed example, i.e., predicting the experience of intellect from the value benevolence in Sample 1. The fixed average experienced intercept for intellect was 2.65 with a standard deviation of 1.08, indicating that although the experienced intellect was on average rather low, there were large individual differences in the amount of intellect experienced with a slope of -0.20, which was statistically significant ( p ≤ 0.05). This means for every one-point increase in the importance attributed to benevolence, we would expect a 0.20 decrease in the average level of experienced intellect.


TABLE 5. Means-as-outcomes regression models in Sample 1.


TABLE 6. Means-as-outcomes regression models in Sample 2.

Benevolence and self-direction predicted a significant decrease in experienced intellect, while conformity and tradition predicted a significant increase in experienced intellect. Power, conformity, tradition and stimulation predicted a significant increase in experienced adversity, while benevolence, universalism, security and self-direction predicted a significant decrease in experienced adversity. Achievement and conformity predicted a significant increase in experienced deception, while self-transcendence, security, and self-direction predicted a significant decrease in experienced deception. Benevolence predicted a significant increase in experienced sociality, while self-direction predicted a significant decrease in experienced sociality. Controlling for age and gender, we found that gender was a significant predictor of duty, i.e., women experienced more duty. Age predicted a significant decrease in adversity and deception.

Power and tradition predicted a significant increase in experienced adversity. Self-direction predicted a significant increase in experienced positivity. Tradition predicted a significant increase in experienced deception. There was no influence of age or gender.

The results concerning relation between values and intellect reveal a reversed pattern than hypothesized. The results for adversity and deception are at least partly in line with our assumptions. While the relation between the self-enhancement-self-transcendence dimension was clear and mostly as expected, the relation between the openness-to-change-conservation dimension was more inconclusive. Namely, not all values belonging to same higher dimension showed the same relation, which is contrary to the assumed compatibilities in the circumplex model. Overall the pattern of results suggests that in both samples individual differences in values are at least to some extent associated with differences in situation experiences in everyday life. However, unfortunately the results did not replicate and therefore, no clear pattern emerged. Possible reasons and implications for these findings are further discussed in the general discussion section.

The investigation of human values and their relation to behavior has been an on-going topic in psychology ( Roccas and Sagiv, 2010 ). Values are supposed to serve as guidelines in peoples’ life ( Schwartz, 1992 ), and thus it seems naturally that they should strongly relate to peoples’ behavior. However, up to date, the link between values and actual behavior, i.e., not self-reported behavior, is weak or even non-existed ( Fischer, 2017 ). There have been several attempts to explain this missing link. For example, some researchers assumed that in order for values to influence behavior they need to be activated ( Maio, 2010 ; Sagiv et al., 2011 ). Others researchers have argued that values are too abstract to actually determine one single behavior or even that behavior cannot actually be assigned to a specific value because there might be different understandings of which behavior actually represents a value depending on social or cultural backgrounds (i.e., value instantiations; Hanel et al., 2017 ). Goal of the present work was to contribute to the value-behavior link discussion by providing a novel approach, i.e., measuring subjective situation experiences, i.e., the situational 8 DIAMONDS, to better understand situational factors that may influence the value-behavior link. Even so, we did not investigate any kind of behavior, we will first discuss the present results, the limitation of the studies and then there potential meaning for the value-behavior link.

First, we reported the relations between values and subjective situation experiences. Overall, the pattern of correlations between samples was quite different. We found many relations in Sample 1, unfortunately there were only few relations in Sample 2. While self-transcendence values were negatively related to all negative situation characteristics (i.e., deception, adversity and negativity) in Sample 1, in Sample 2 only benevolence was negatively related to deception. Power was in both samples related to adversity and deception, but there emerged no clear pattern for achievement. In Sample 1, security was strongly negatively related to almost all situation characteristics, while tradition and conformity only showed moderate relations and in the opposite direction. Interestingly, the conflicting value self-direction also was negatively related to almost all situation characteristics. Due to the circumplex model, we assumed that opposing values would show opposite relations with the same characteristic resulting in a sinusoid curve ( Schwartz, 1992 ). However, the results might indicate that maybe conflicting values shift or shape peoples’ perception in the same way. As a consequence, this similar perception might result in different pattern of emotional and behavioral outcomes. For example, both valuing security and self-direction was associated with lower experience of situations high in intellect. Experiencing that a situation is low in intellect might active an individual high in self-direction to leave the situation or evoke negative feelings and emotions. Contrary, experiencing that a situation is low in intellect might active an individual high in security to stay in the situation or evoke positive feelings. However, the conflicting values benevolence and power did show opposing relations with the same situation characteristics. Therefore, the results provide neither strong evidence for the typical sinusoid curve nor for the idea that opposing values might shift perception in a similar way.

Interestingly, duty, positivity and sociality did not show any strong relations with values. One possible explanation could be that situation characteristics captured with the 8 DIAMONDS differ in their objectivity. The results by Rauthmann et al. (2014) showed that adversity and deception had the lowest interrater reliability. This could indicate that some DIAMONDS leave more room for interpretation that is subjective experience due to individual differences than others. In an ambiguous situation individual differences might influence the perception of potential threats more than the perception of having a task to attend to. However, in that case it would be surprising that positivity is not related to values as it also relates to more subjective experience. Other measurements have been developed and future research should examine if using the other instruments, which capture situation characteristics with only adjective might be better suited (overview: Horstmann et al., 2017 ). Overall, the correlations pattern differed immensely and should be treated with caution.

Considering the results concerning the ICCs, they show that individual differences especially influence the experience of negatively connoted situation experiences, i.e., most variance in the experienced adversity, deception and negativity was due to individual factors and not due to specific situational aspects. This could indicate that values do indeed transcend specific situation in daily life and are a lens through which people see and interpret their surroundings. In Sample 1, our results show that benevolence predicts less aversive and deceptive situation experience in daily life, while the opposing pattern emerged for power as a predictor. Unfortunately, this pattern could not be replicated in Sample 2.

From a psychological perspective, the relation between subjective situation experiences and values might be more interesting than the relation to actual activities or contacts. The findings suggest that values are not necessarily used to evaluate a specific action or situation; rather they may refer to a proneness to see situations in certain way. If this is the case our findings could be used to predict how people with different values will experience identical situations, i.e., situations which are standardized. For example, to investigate cooperative behavior researchers often rely on decision-making in economic games like the prisoner’s dilemma or the trust game (e.g., Camerer, 2011 ). The games do have objective differences (e.g., number of players, information certainty), however, if values do shape the perception of situations, including those standardized scenarios, we would expect that subjective experiences of different games are more similar for one individual compared to the experiences of another. For example, an individual valuing power might be prone to experience most economic games as deceptive situations compared to people valuing benevolence. The differences in situation experience may also serve as a mediator between values and behavior.

Although, considering prior research ( Sherman et al., 2015 ) the variance due to individual differences in our samples was much higher. One possible explanation could be methodical differences between DRM and ESM. While ESM uses momentary assessment to capture brief events, the DRM uses a memory technique to recall all the events on a typical day. Even so, due to the specific technique recall biases and memory distortions are reduced, they cannot be completely excluded. Some studies show that in general negative events are easier to recall ( Porter et al., 2010 ), and that the recall is also associated with personality traits ( Martin et al., 1983 ). Moreover, using ESM can lead to overestimated brief events and distortions due to sample bias ( Kahneman et al., 2004 ). Think about the situation teaching a class, using ESM participants might never report this episode as they will probably not stop teaching in order to fill out a questionnaire. Using DRM participants will probably report this episode as part of the day. These methodical differences provide some explanation for the differences between our findings and previous findings ( Sherman et al., 2015 ). Both methods have their strengths and depending on the research question one or the other might be more useful.

Another point worth of discussing, is that, values belonging to the same higher dimension did not always relate to situation experience in similar manner. Although, that might seem surprising, one should keep in mind that even if values are compatible and belong to the same higher dimension, they do represent distinct motivational goals. Power and achievement are both self-enhancement values, but only power is related to experiencing adversity, i.e., threats and conflict. In general, people assume that others have a similar motivation than themselves ( Ockenfels and Raub, 2010 ). Thus, one explanation could be that people who value power often (unconsciously) assume that others want to challenge their dominate role, which in turn leads to a perceived threat.

Furthermore, some values which are supposed to be compatible (i.e., security, tradition, and conformity) showed relations to the 8 DIAMONDS in the opposite direction. The findings contradict the assumption of the circumplex value model. Situation selection in everyday life could be an explanation for the contradictive results. Especially, security often showed a different pattern than conformity and tradition. Security refers to valuing the status quo and a safe surrounding; therefore, it seems plausible that people valuing security experienced less negative and aversive situations. It is opposed to their underlying motivational goal to put themselves in situations which might entail threats. On the other hand, valuing conformity and tradition implies being obedient to socially imposed expectations. Thus, people may find themselves in situations which are unpleasant, however, due to social expectations they stay in the situation. Past studies have already shown that individual differences (i.e., personality traits and personal values) are linked to the exposure of objective life events ( Magnus et al., 1993 ; Paunonen, 2003 ; Sortheix et al., 2013 ). Therefore, it seems to be more likely that individual differences might also represent a proneness to experience certain situations characteristics but not determining them.

Contrary to our hypothesis, no value was correlated or predicted the experience of duty. Moreover, additional analyses revealed that in Sample 1 gender, but not age, predicted experienced duty, that is women reported more situations high in duty than men. Considering the sample, it could be that with certain life events (e.g., full-time working, having children) more situations high in duty become part of a daily routine. Another explanation could be that all of our participants reported a week day, which might be determined by situations or tasks which cannot be actively chosen. Maybe value relations to duty, but also to the other situation characteristics may be enhanced or even be opposed to our findings during the weekend, i.e., during times in which people can actively shape their day. Opposed to our assumptions, we further found that self-direction was negatively and tradition positively related to experienced intellect. Again, we believe that the pattern might change during the weekend. People valuing self-direction may not experience intellect during daily routine, while people valuing tradition may even experience daily routine as stimulating and intellectual challenging. Our assumptions were mainly based on the theoretical idea that people are consciously or unconsciously seeking out situations which fit their values. Research in the work context supports this idea, showing that values influence amongst others career choices ( Sagiv and Schwartz, 2004 ). However, we did not find that for example people valuing stimulation also experience more stimulating situations. It seems worthwhile to investigate the relation between values and situation selection over a couple of days in future research.


As mentioned above, participants may consciously or unconsciously seek out different situations, e.g., situations which enable them to fulfill their goals or act in accordance with their goals. Situation selection ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ) implies that people actually experience different situations. Unfortunately, our data does not allow drawing any conclusions about active situation selection. Participants only reported which situations they encounter, but we do not know if they actually put themselves into the situation. Furthermore, our data does not allow drawing any conclusion about how people actually perceive the identical situation, i.e., a standardized situation in which the same cues are present. One major limitation is that we cannot draw any conclusions about situation selection and situation construal in daily life.

Furthermore, we have no behavioral data in daily life. However, we believe that our data provides some initial evidence and can inspire future research. For example, one could easily extend the DRM to capture self-reported behavior but also it would be possible to add some items to ask about active situation selection. In addition, comparing in situ and ex situ ratings of the situation descriptions given in the DRM could provide some clue about the relation between values and situation construal.

However, considering the recent problems concerning the replicability of psychological findings the major limitation is that we could not replicate our findings in the second sample. We chose our samples for theoretical and practical reasons (i.e., availability of a student sample). On a theoretical level to investigate how values relate to situation experiences in daily life, it seemed useful to have samples which differed in several aspects (e.g., nationality, profession, and age) to potentially obtain more generalizable findings. One reason could be that not only did the samples differ in their demographics, but also we used different instruments to measure values and situation characteristics in both samples. Maybe, the results would have been more similar if the studies had not differed on all three aspects. We chose our samples for theoretical and practical reasons (i.e., availability of a student sample). On a theoretical level to investigate how values relate to situation experiences in daily life, it seemed useful to have samples which differed in several aspects (e.g., nationality, profession, and age). Even so, if a real effect exists and the instruments are valid, the differences in results between the samples should not have been so pronounced. Furthermore, both samples are quite small, which probably entails a low power, and thus in order to find an effect it would need to be large effect. Given the very broad conceptualization of both values and situation characteristics, it seems more realistic to assume a small effect. Additionally, we conducted multiple testing which – without corrections – might lead to an inflation of the alpha error. Thus, the present results should be taken with caution and be seen as some initial evidence that points in the direction of values being related to subjective situation experience. A lot of further research is needed to make any strong or reliable statements.

Implications for the Value-Behavior Link

Previous research has shown that individual differences in situation perception also transfer to differences in behavior ( Rauthmann et al., 2014 ). However, as we have no real behavioral data in our study, we cannot affirm this assumption for our data. In the future to better understand and maybe to bridge the value-behavior gap, it might be worth to examine the relation between value consistent behavior and situation selection. Situation selection could have similar effects as value activation on value consistent behavior. People who consciously or unconsciously put themselves in competitive situations might activate self-enhancement values. At the same time self-enhancement values might become more important because people want to appear consistent and therefore infer from their behavior to their values ( Fischer, 2017 ).

Moreover, the novel taxonomies to measure situation perception can also be used to examine the relations between values and behavior in a standardized given situation, that is in an objective identical situation. There are several possibilities through which in an identical situation experienced situation characteristic might mediate the relation between values and behavior. For example, differences in behavior might emerge due to differences in the experience of the same characteristics. In a social dilemma situation, the subjective experience of deception might influence the willingness to behave on a prosocial manner. However, it is also possible that people behave in the same way due to different situation experiences. In a social dilemma, some people might act prosocial because they experience low adversity and are therefore not afraid to be exploited. Others might act prosocial because they experience high duty, and thus they feel it is their task to contribute. Motivation, which includes values, relates to decisions (conscious or unconscious) that involve how, when, and why people engage in behavior ( Pinder, 1998 ). Overall, we believe that focusing more on subjective situation experiences due to values, could provide novel understandings of when and why allocate effort to a task or activity.

Since 2014, five different instruments to capture situation characteristics have been published ( Horstmann et al., 2017 ). This development shows, that currently subjective situation experiences is a continuously developing field and provides novel insight to understand peoples’ behavior. We believe that it is worth to examine and understand the precise aspects in situations which may activate or prevent value-consistent behavior.

In conclusion, we believe that situation characteristics are a useful tool to understand and measure external factors that influence the value-behavior link. Our work provides some initial evidence that behavior is a function of situation and person, and thus that in order to close the gap between values and behavior, a better understanding of this interaction is necessary. Therefore, to understand why people act or do not act in accordance with their values, we first need to obtain a better understanding of the situation they experience.

Ethics Statement

The study was conducted in full accordance with the Ethical Guidelines of the German Association of Psychologists (DGPs) and the American Psychological Association (APA). No personal information was assessed; participants remained completely and were not identified in any regard during the study process. Moreover, by the time the data were acquired in July 2016, it was also not customary at Ulm University, nor at most other German universities, to seek ethics approval for simple, non-invasive field studies.

Author Contributions

RK and JK conceived of the presented idea, and carried out the experiment. RK performed the computations. JK verified the analytical methods. RK wrote the manuscript with support from JK.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We thank Stefan Pfattheicher for comments that greatly improved the manuscript.

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Keywords : human values, situation perception, 8 DIAMONDS, day reconstruction method, daily life

Citation: Kesberg R and Keller J (2018) The Relation Between Human Values and Perceived Situation Characteristics in Everyday Life. Front. Psychol. 9:1676. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01676

Received: 21 February 2018; Accepted: 20 August 2018; Published: 13 September 2018.

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Copyright © 2018 Kesberg and Keller. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Rebekka Kesberg, [email protected]

This article is part of the Research Topic

New Approaches in Exploring Value-Behavior Relations

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Understanding Values Work pp 35–55 Cite as

What Is Values Work? A Review of Values Work in Organisations

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Through a review of the existing empirical studies and emerging literature on values work in organisations, this paper aims to disambiguate the phenomenon of values work. Values work is understood as ongoing value performances situated in everyday practice in organisations. As such, values work is identified as social and institutional processes of constructing agency, actions and practice in organisations. In this chapter, I show how values work is part of both a performative tradition of process studies and an institutional work tradition that strives to change, disrupt and maintain institutions. Further, I outline how future studies can broaden the field of values work.

  • Values work
  • Performative
  • Institutional work

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Research on Values Work: An Introduction

Research on values work can be seen as a new trajectory within the domain of research on values in organisations. There is a growing body of knowledge that has identified relationships between shared values and organisational performance on the one hand and societal values and organisational behaviour on the other (Agle & Caldwell, 1999 ). However, it is argued that we need to go beyond studies of organisational behaviour and decision-making to understand values as modes of behaviour, or as values-in-use, in organisational practice (Meglino & Ravlin, 1998 ).

Responding to the call, Gehman, Trevino, and Garud ( 2013 ) proposed a practice perspective to values in organisations, which focuses on the processes whereby values emerge in work performances. The practice perspective is different from a cognitive and a cultural approach to studying values. The cognitive perspective on values studies offers nuanced vocabularies for describing values in abstract terms—a repertoire of discrete values and typologies of workplace values (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983 ; Rohan, 2000 ; Schwartz, 1992 ). A cultural perspective on values focuses on the manifestation of values in various artefacts, rituals and symbols through the roles of entrepreneurs and executives and the organising of values through the use of language (Harrison & Beyer, 1984 ; Martin, 1992 ; Schein, 2010 ). The practice perspective draws attention to the practices in which the values are performed (Gehman et al., 2013 , p. 86). It is broadly consistent with the ‘practice turn’ (Schatzki, 2001 ) in organisations. Values are to be found in practice (Dewey, 1939 ) and pursued as ends in themselves. As such, Gehman et al. ( 2013 , p. 84) define values practices in organisations as ‘sayings and doings in organizations that articulate and accomplish what is normatively right and wrong, good or bad, for its own sake’.

A Literature Review of Values Work in Organisations

To identify studies that broaden the emerging concepts of values work in organisations, I reviewed the available studies on the subject and their contributions. A computer-based literature search was conducted in international research databases such as ABI/Inform and Business Source Complete (BSC). The databases covered a broad range of recent articles published in the disciplines of economy, organisations and leadership. Keywords such as ‘values work’ and ‘organization’ were searched for in titles, abstracts and article keywords in papers published during the last ten years—from 2008 to 2018. I chose a time frame of 10 years to include articles published before Gehman et al.’s ( 2013 ) notions of values work.

An initial search produced a relatively large number of articles: 30 published articles in ABI/Inform and 83 in BSC. To narrow down the number, a few inclusion criteria were imposed. Studies were chosen only if (1) they were empirical works that researched values work as a phenomenon within organisations, (2) they identified structures, processes or mechanisms of values work in organisations, and (3) they were published in either a Scandinavian language or English. Articles on ‘work values’ that emphasised the development of individual values on joining an organisation or on entering an occupation (Connor & Becker, 1994 ) were excluded from the study. Other excluded works were empirical studies that focused on economic and strategic approaches, such as sustainability strategy and value congruence as well as those based on psychological research and management, such as work-life balance and workplace commitment. A manual search was also performed on all the selected articles to identify additional references.

Of the published articles selected from the literature review (Hart, 2018 ), six empirical articles were considered relevant to this review, and all the six were empirical studies that focused primarily on values work as performed in organisations. Three articles used the term ‘values work’ or referred to Gehman et al.’s study of values work in organisations (Perkmann & Spicer, 2014 ; Vaccaro & Palazzo, 2015 ; Wright, Zammuto, & Liesch, 2017 ). One article did not mention the term ‘values work’, but it was cited in one of the review articles and was a distinct study on values in a crisis situation within an organisation (Gutierrez, Howard-Grenville, & Scully, 2010 ). One article was included because it was based on empirical studies of values work in extant literature and discussed values as part of the dynamic nature of organisations (Bourne & Jenkins, 2013 ). Table 3.1 presents the titles, research questions, methods and findings of the six selected studies.

The six empirical studies were analysed for the following: definition of values and values work, the institutional context of values work, the institutional processes and outcome of values work. Additionally, they were compared to two Norwegian studies on values in faith-based institutions (Aadland & Skjørshammer, 2012 ; Askeland, 2014 ). The Norwegian papers did not appear in the online literature search. However, they constitute unique empirical studies on values in organisations, especially in the context of faith-based institutions. Through an action research process, Aadland and Skjørshammer ( 2012 ) identified values reflections as enhancing values practices and change. The process of critical value reflection was considered a viable strategy to promote ethical reflection, increase moral sensitivity and raise awareness of values-in-use among staff and leaders. By shadowing leaders, Askeland ( 2014 ) noted that leaders initiate values processes in faith-based organisations and thus become agents for the institutionalisation of organisational values. Leaders contribute to identity and values formation through information and relational work.

Several other studies could have been included in this literature review. For instance, the study on eight Norwegian organisations that examined the relative influence of values on core organisational functions came close to investigating values work as institutional work in organisations (Aadland, 2010 ). However, the study did not identify values work and the practice of values, per se. Zilber ( 2009 ) adopted a narrative approach to exploring how forms of institutional work can translate meta-narratives into organisations and the lives of individuals. Identifying process as symbolic institutional maintenance, Zilber ( 2009 ) highlighted how stories represent values and meaning. The study used a rape crisis centre in Israel as a case organisation and examined institutional maintenance as narrative acts but did not specifically identify values work.

Another work that could have been included is by Kraatz ( 2009 ), which revisits Selznick’s ( 1957 / 1983 ) perspectives. Kraatz portrayed a leader as both the ‘agent of institutionalism’ and the defender and steward of the organisation, which is a living social entity. Values work executed by a leader can have implications for organisational legitimacy, governance and change. However, in this chapter, I am investigating how values work becomes a distributed activity within the whole organisation rather than who is doing values work and how it becomes the responsibility of leaders.

A recent article discusses how values practices are performed collectively through the practice of grass-roots exchange networks in crisis-stricken Greece (Daskalaki, Fotaki, & Sotiropoulou, 2018 ). The study builds on Gehman et al.’s concept of value practices and explores the value systems of different networks and how they reconfigure economic values. However, the study describes economic actions and solidarity at a macro-level instead of identifying structures of values work within organisations. Hence, it was not included in the review.

Defining Values Work

How do the six studies identify the concept of values work? Gehman et al. ( 2013 ) were the first to introduce the concept of values work as ongoing performances situated in everyday practice and manifested it in emerging and performed value practices. Vaccaro and Palazzo ( 2015 ) go beyond this description of values work and highlight how the performative power of values could contribute to the construction of the described reality. Building on Schwartz ( 1996 , p. 2), they defined values as ‘desirable, trans-situational goals’ and interpreted them as motivational factors and guiding principles in people’s lives, which could challenge and change highly resistant institutions. Hence, the values work studies hold a performative view of values in organisations (Gehman et al., 2013 ) stating that values are found in evolving practices (Dewey, 1939 ).

Gehman et al.’s ( 2013 ) perceptions of values work and practices are building on practice theory, which suggest that people’s practices direct their right or wrong behaviour. Their definition of values practices—‘sayings and doings in organizations that articulate and accomplish what is normatively right or wrong, good or bad, for its own sake’—is influenced by Schatzki’s definition ( 2012 , p. 14) of practice as an ‘open-ended, spatially-temporally dispersed nexus of doings and sayings’. The studies leaning on practice theory seems to lack an important dimension of values as ideals or as ‘desirable modes’. The word ‘desirable’ (which is different from ‘desired’ [Parsons, 1968 ]) mentioned in classic definitions of values by for instance Kluckhohn ( 1951 ) and Van Deth and Scarbrough ( 1998 ) draws attention to what is wanted or sought as an attractive, useful or necessary course of action, as standards for actions. It also lends values a normative direction (Scott, 2014 ), indicating a close relationship between morality and work of the ‘common good’ (Lawrence, Leca, & Zilber, 2013 ). To orient values practices towards standards for behaviour and the capacity to imagine alternative possibilities for future actions, I therefore expand Gehman et al.’s definition of values to the sayings and doings in organisations that articulate and accomplish the desirables in relevance to right and wrong action and behaviour.

The Institutional Context of Studies on Values Work

Regarding the institutional context of values work studies, values work has been either studied in highly institutionalised organisations, recognised as social systems (Aldrich, 1992 ) or in groups described as associations or grass - roots organisations, characterised by ‘participation in collective political activities open to everyone’ (Togeby, 1993 ). Associated organisations are established with a clear agenda: micro-processes of values work help promote a political mission and encourage the common good. For example, the grass-roots movement of Addiopizzo promoted values in a context where institutions were highly resistant to change, by working against the pizzo or protection money, in a mafia setting (Vaccaro & Palazzo, 2015 ). Another grass-roots organisation encouraged uniting against child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (Gutierrez et al., 2010 ). A third study investigated an innovation that allowed anyone to author news on a newly established web-based platform (Perkmann & Spicer, 2014 ).

Organisations that function as open social systems frequently develop strong normative and cognitive belief systems as part of the rules, norms and ideologies of the wider society. The formal structures of these organisations can reflect rationalised myths (Meyer & Rowan, 1977 ) and may contain weakly connected elements that make them loosely coupled systems (Meyer & Scott, 1992 ). Researchers of institutionalism in Scandinavia have, through case studies, investigated the dynamic aspect of ideas circulating within institutions. ‘Translation’ tends to occur where ideas are co-constructed in ways that change the meaning and content of the ideas circulating in a field (Sahlin & Wedlin, 2008 ).

Studies on values in open systems have investigated how integrity is reinforced through the practice of an honour code (Gehman et al., 2013 ). Professionals maintain their values despite changing their organisational practice (Wright et al., 2017 ), and this awareness of moral values shapes the organisation’s identity (Aadland & Skjørshammer, 2012 ). Studies have identified not-for-profit organisations as being highly sensitive to institutional influence (Greenwood, Oliver, Sahlin, & Suddaby, 2008 ). However, more studies should investigate how circulating ideas, when translated, can be reframed in terms of the ideology of the recipient organisation.

Values Work in Investigating Institutional Processes

While the concepts of values work are highly influenced by practice theory, the studies in this review are also informed by a strong-process orientation (Langley, Smallman, Tsoukas, & Ven, 2013 ; Langley & Tsoukas, 2010 ). In process studies, attention is focused on how and why things emerge, develop, grow or terminate over time in organisations (Langley et al., 2013 ). Process studies aim to unpack events to help understand complex activities and transactions that take place in organisations and contribute to their constitution (Langley & Tsoukas, 2010 ). Processes not only point inwards to activities within the organisation but also reflect the responses and pressures from the outside.

Process studies offer a relevant perspective to investigate values in an organisation, especially to examine how values emerge and are performed at different times. The process perspective investigates values as changing or as maintained along with the mechanisms influencing these processes. When investigating values work, Gehman et al. ( 2013 ) identified a process: values emerge out of ‘pockets of concern’, tying local concerns into an action network. People at different organisational levels were performing actual values practice, circulating values dialogues to foster development and institutionalisation (VanderPal & Ko, 2014 ). This process was also reported in a study by Vaccaro and Palazzo ( 2015 ) where the actor, Addiopizzo, organised resistance to the payment of pizzo by putting up posters all over Palermo, containing a short message: ‘A society that pays the pizzo is a society without dignity’. Addiopizzo’s process work reinterpreted institutions that paid pizzo and meaning of dignity in the fight against institutions highly resistant to change.

Reviews mostly describe strong processes in organisations (Langley & Tsoukas, 2017 ); however, a question worth asking is whether reviews provide an understanding of values work as part of the institutionalising processes at organisations. The role of values, as included in ongoing institutionalisation processes, and how values influence actions, agency and institutions have not been thoroughly described in any of the review articles.

Values Work Enhancing Normative Dimensions of Work

The analysis of the review studies shows that even though values work rests upon a normative pillar that introduces prescriptions and valuation dimensions into social life (Scott, 2014 ), this seems to be an under-examined theme. Gehman et al.’s ( 2013 ) notion of values practices as ‘right and wrong practice’ suggests that a close relationship with morality is desired in working for the ‘common good’, though this is not elaborated in the text. Phillips and Lawrence ( 2012 ) identified 15 different forms of institutional work, none of which are described as involving moral or ethical work. Wright et al. ( 2017 ) noted that moral emotions arise from situations of value conflicts in interactions between organisational members, but they only considered emotions as mobilised by problems and not as part of moral reflection. Aadland and Skjørshammer ( 2012 ) are rather alone in highlighting that work on values can introduce an ethical sensitivity but do not mention the mechanisms directing this work.

Outcomes of Studies on Values Work

The outcome of studies on values work can be separated into two. First, these studies contribute to the identification of the values process itself: How it emerges, changes and shapes activities. Second, values work in several studies is connected to the formation of an organisational identity.

In the studies by Gehman et al. ( 2013 ), Vaccaro and Pallazzo ( 2015 ), and Perkman and Spicer ( 2014 ), values facilitate a process of searching for hidden meanings and mechanisms that constitute value practices (Gehman et al., 2013 ). Vaccaro and Palazzo ( 2015 ) identified how values can be used strategically to highlight normative tension and drive change. Change agents in institutional change processes use the performative power of values work to change institutions that are highly resistant to change. Perkmann and Spicer ( 2014 ) showed how values work is part of an organisational bricolage. The symbolic material (values) is vital to structuring particular organisations. Additionally, values practices are identified to mobilise organisational practices, re-articulate social relations and promote sustainable living (Daskalaki et al., 2018 ).

The contributions of values work towards identity formation are especially evident in the studies conducted in churches or faith-based organisations. Values are invoked politically to restore values in a crisis (Gutierrez et al., 2010 ). For instance, crafting a ‘split identification’ was a values work mechanism for repairing the identity of the church dealing with the accusations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Awareness of organisational values and mutual work and self-reflection influence the identity formation of a faith-based institution (Aadland & Skjørshammer, 2012 ). Leaders play a special role in cementing the ideological profile of faith-based institutions (Askeland, 2014 ).

As a spin-off of the mentioned values work studies, is a growing body of research investigating the effects of value practices and how they are encouraged in organisations (Daskalaki et al., 2018 ). Although these studies explore different directions, two broad themes can be identified. Some have started to use the term ‘values practices’, by extending the performative understanding to different arrangements for social change and maintenance. For instance, values practices are interpreted as restoring human values in times of crisis, leading to sustainable living conditions (Daskalaki et al., 2018 ). They are also highlighted in understanding the tensions between public organisations and the management (Chanut, Chomienne, & Desmarais, 2015 ) and in the protection of an organisational identity (Desai, 2017 ).

The second theme involves investigating how human and individual values are relevant to organisational practice. For instance, studies have examined the influence of counter-ideal values (Van Quaquebeke, Graf, Kerschreiter, Schuh, & van Dick, 2014 ), the relationship between organisational humanity values and commitment (Husted, 2018 ), and how social entrepreneurship can mitigate value concessions (Mitzinneck & Besharov, 2018 ).

Based on the analysis of the review studies, a notable aspect in the studies is the notion that no study to date has investigated how values animate the ‘value-spheres’ of institutional logics and the practice of social order. Drawing on Weber ( 1946 / 2012 ), Friedland explains that institutional logics are composed of a multiplicity of ‘value spheres’. Confirming the ‘validity of such values’ is a ‘matter of faith’, which individuals seek and for which they claim to be instruments. Each value sphere is teleologically consistent in exercising ‘power over man’ (Friedland, 2013a , p. 28). According to Friedland, Weber sees all value rationalities as religious: on the one hand, one seeks to possess the divine in the moment, and on the other, one is an instrument of the divine, acknowledging God’s creation and participating in the perfection (Friedland, 2013b , pp. 18–19).

Within each order, there are sets of expectations for both the individual and the organisation (Friedland & Alford, 1991 ). When expressed, these distinct practices manifest the material substance of the logics, organising them in time and space and giving them meaning. For example, the material practice of the value sphere of compassion can be expressed through rites of care that alleviate people’s suffering, which gives the logic instrumental and ritual content. Integral to the production of institutional logics is a valuation of a judgement on what to do. Thus, institutional logics have a normative dimension in that they are organised around actionable goods that are of value to the world (Friedland, 2017 , p. 12).

Over the last decade, the literature on institutional logics has broadened the understanding of the institutional processes of organisations (Thornton & Ocasio, 2008 ; Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012 ). Studies have emphasised the coexistence and mingling of logics (Purdy & Gray, 2009 ; Reay & Hinings, 2009 ) and the effect of shifts in the dominant logics (Lounsbury & Boxenbaum, 2013 ). Mainly identified at the societal level, institutional logics can also be found within organisations where they are used to legitimise the institutions’ language and practice (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009 ; Zilber, 2017 ). Recently, there has been a call to investigate institutional logics from the bottom-up, in order to add micro-aspects to the study of institutional logics (Zilber, 2017 ). However, to understand how institutional logics construct, shape and modify activities over time, more research is needed on how values work is a part of the internal practice of logic.

Future Research on Values Work

The six articles on values work and the more recent stream of values practice studies indicate a renewed interest in values and values work in organisational research. All the studies in this literature review are informed by a process perspective. They are focused on matters within organisations and consider values as distributed activities, embedded in practice and constantly evolving. In the context of institutional work, scholars note that values play a role in the interaction between actions and institutions and in the social order that influences activities. However, what remains unclear is whether the current studies on values work are trying to integrate perspectives on how values contribute to constructing people’s understanding of reality. A central question is how institutional complexity triggers values work.

More research is needed on the role of values in institutionalisation processes. How do values influence actions, agency and institutions? For instance, scholars should analyse the link between institutional work and institutional leadership in order to understand how fundamental values become institutionalised through work. More information is needed on which rules to follow, which authorities to obey and which strategies leaders should adopt to reconcile conflicting tendencies in organisations and to negotiate leadership in for instance multicultural workplaces. It would also be interesting to explore how managers go beyond core values and value codes to facilitate processes that tie in purpose, values and the character of the organisation.

Future research should also investigate values work in organisations and how it shapes individual behaviour in everyday life, especially in volunteering activities, in establishing different values in public governance and in developing reflexivity and values consciousness. Additionally, studies should explore core values and how managers negotiate them within the context of a thriving and distinct organisational values discourse. Finally, researchers should attempt to understand how institutional logics construct, shape and modify activities over time by examining how values work may be part of the internal practice of logic.

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Espedal, G. (2020). What Is Values Work? A Review of Values Work in Organisations. In: Askeland, H., Espedal, G., Jelstad Løvaas, B., Sirris, S. (eds) Understanding Values Work. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37748-9_3

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Research Paper By Rosie Kropp (Executive Coach, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)


Aristotle believed there was a set of core values that should manifest themselves in the behaviour of all human beings. These were courage, honesty, friendliness, wittiness, rationality in judgment, mutually beneficial friendships and the pursuit of knowledge and truth. We live our lives based on our core values; it is the foundation of our lives from where we make our decisions

Many clients who come to a coach do so as they are not satisfied with their current life situation and are longing for something more, better or different but they are not sure what that is. They often lack a clear vision and purpose in life and are not always aware of what their core values are or how living in harmony with one’s inner values can affect their happiness. To explore and define a persons values is therefore of crucial importance in a coaching programme as it affects all areas of the persons life. Thereafter, the client needs to align their life to their value foundation in order to live a fulfilled life.

We spend much of our time working wherefore the values that are perceived in our working life is highly important for us to feel good about ourselves and what we are doing. Unfortunately, many people struggle to align their own values with those of corporates where they often lack meaning, personal satisfaction and passion for what they do. This can affect other areas of their lives negatively and therefore the choice of where, how and what to do while working is an important question for a persons wellbeing.

How important are values and value-alignment for a person and how does it affect their working life? How can a coach best support a client in exploring and defining their values? Is there a new generation of value-driven individuals who prefer to choose to start their own business instead of working for a corporate if there is a lack of value-alignment and what type of values are steering them? This paper will explore those all those areas.

The importance of values and value alignment

Values relate to our purpose in life and should be used as guiding principles to make our lives easier and more fulfilled. Values will vary from person to person as they depend on personal judgment, upbringing, culture and traditions. Our values are of extreme importance as they steer and shape most of the things around us: relationships, behaviour, choices and personal identity are all affected by a persons values. When our actions and words are aligned with our values, we feel content, happy, confident and satisfied. But when our behaviors don’t match with our values, we will begin to sense an uneasiness that will grow inside of us and creates negative energy. A persons life will become less stressful and more productive, when acknowledging what his/her personal values are – and then make the attempt to live by and honor these values regardless of the circumstances the client will encounter. As Dalai Lama has expressed

Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

Values can change over time, therefore it is important to check upon them regularly to ensure they are the right ones.

Values help people get and stay motivated and they provide a person with a strong foundation; a method for living life to it’s fullest. Values will also help a person finding their purpose in life. In a coaching programme there are several tools and exercises that can help a client to explore and define their values. A coach can help clients to define their value foundation by asking powerful questions:

  • What is most important to you in life?
  • What principles/standards/ qualities do you consider worthwhile or desirable?
  • What personal values resonate most with you in order to live a great life?
  • What is important in your working life?
  • Are your personal and business values aligned?

A list of values can values can be helpful to start the conversation where it is important that they client choose and priorities the values they find truly important in life, not the ones they think they should have. A value pyramid is a great tool to discuss and understand that different values bear different importance. To discuss a client’s role models can also reveal what values they admire. The important thing is to confirm what the client’s core values are and for the client to find a way to live by them in all areas of life.

The role of values in working life

If a persons business values and personal values are in alignment, that is great. If they are not, the person will be dissatisfied, unhappy and not perform well. The importance of value alignment in the working place is significant, especially when looking at how much time of our lives we spend at work.

Due to Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter at Harvard Business School, a new type of 21st century company is emerging that is transforming how business is conducted. These are values-driven companies that define a core set of values and rely on these values in making all strategic decisions. Such companies are transforming themselves, their industries, and the world. This values-based orientation attracts and motivates employees, appeals to customers, leads to focused innovation, and creates competitive advantage. A focus on values enables companies to change and bounce back quickly from challenging situations. This is how many successful companies will operate and behave in the future. They will be less hierarchical and more driven by flexible networks, more open and transparent while bringing society and its needs inside.2)

Unfortunately, this type of value-driven companies has taken a backseat during the last year’s global crisis where we instead have witnessed and focused on greed, irresponsibility, dishonesty and inhumanity among many corporates. One would think that the financial crisis should have led to people being more appreciative of their employments and less prone to leave it because it is not aligned with their values. However, recent data from the US shows that the last year’s financial crisis has actually resulted in more people leaving their positions despite the uncertainty in the world. The US unemployment rate remains high at 9,1%. Meanwhile, the number of new businesses is growing at the fastest rate in 15 years, according to the entrepreneurial and educational research group the Kauffman Foundation. Throughout the 2000s, only 4% of new business owners in the US listed “lack of employment options” as a motivator to start their business. So, what motivates those entrepreneurs to leave corporates and start their own businesses? It seems like the corporate world no longer is capable of attracting people with the old attributes of security, career, status and money as those entrepreneurs have other drivers.

Values and entrepreneurship

Today’s entrepreneurship is a strong value-based process that is needed to be successful in the long run. The Kauffman Foundations research on entrepreneurship in the US shows that a majority of today’s entrepreneurs can be defined by values such as wanting to have more control over your own destiny and security.

For the purpose of this paper, a qualitative survey of 15 entrepreneurs across different nationalities, ages and gender has been conducted to explore the importance of values and key drivers to become an entrepreneur. The survey shows that values are of crucial importance when it comes to working life and when personal and corporate values are not aligned, people take the decision to start their own value-based business.

In the survey, following one’s inner values is highlighted as very important and a core driver to start a business. Core values mentioned by the respondents are; caring for family and friends, health, life/work balance, freedom, flexibility, respect, passion, personal development and learning. Other values expressed are aspirations, having fun, adventure, improving society, fairness, ethics, social justice and honesty.

Most of the respondents felt that their values were lacking or not considered important in the corporates they previously worked for. That was the major reason for many of them to leave and start their own business. The key drivers for them to start their own business were to create alignment with their personal values. Steering their own time and destiny was important as well as achieving their dreams and working with their passion. They also express excitement over the opportunity to develop themselves and to be able to build something instead of changing something – which is the normal situation while working for a corporate.

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A relationship that makes life worth-living: levels of value orientation explain differences in meaning and life satisfaction

Anastasia besika.

a Developmental Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Jonathan W. Schooler

b Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Bas Verplanken

c Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom

Alissa J. Mrazek

d Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, USA

Elliott D. Ihm

Associated data.

Data will be made available on request.

When people talk about their values they refer to what is meaningful to them. Although meaning is associated with life satisfaction, previous studies report inconsistent results regarding the association of values and well-being. A cross-sectional study ( N = 276) addresses the research question, do values influence experiences of meaning and subjective evaluations of life satisfaction? To assess whether providing a definition of “meaningful” is necessary when employing meaning measures, we assigned participants to condition where some provided their definition and others read a definition of “meaningful”. All participants described a recent meaningful experience; they characterized it with sources of meaning; they read descriptions of 10 values and assessed the degree those were relevant to their experience; and they completed meaning and life satisfaction measures. Findings, which were unaffected by reading a definition of “meaningful”, indicated that the most common source of meaning (Family) was associated positively with the value of Tradition and negatively with the value of Universalism. Latent Profile Analysis identified three profiles denoting participants’ level of value orientation, which explained interindividual differences in average levels of meaning and life satisfaction variables. Participants who associated their meaningful experience with the 10 universal values at a high level scored higher in the meaning and life satisfaction measures than those who associated their experience to the 10 universal values at a low level. The present work advances knowledge regarding the relationship between meaning, values and life satisfaction and validates previous studies reporting on meaning as a marker of well-being.

Latent value profiles, Meaning in life, Sources of meaning, Latent profile analysis, Satisfaction with life, Well-being.

1. Introduction

Life may come with extraordinary meaningful events as well as meaningful moments weaved into daily routines ( Heintzelman and King, 2019 ). What characterizes meaningful experiences that make life seem worth-living?

People experience meaning on the affective, cognitive and motivational levels of functioning (e.g., O'Connor and Chamberlain, 1996 ). On the affective level, research evidence indicates that meaning emerges from positive affect ( King et al., 2006 ; King and Hicks, 2021 ) and can transform negative into positive affect ( Wong, 2012 ). On the cognitive level, studies show that meaning acts as an environmental decoder and helps people with processing information, coordinating their action and communicating complex concepts ( Heintzelman and King, 2014 ). On the motivational level, although there are suggestions that people's values may capture what is meaningful to them ( Reker, 2000 ; Reker and Wong, 1988 ), empirical evidence show no association between the 10 universal value domains ( Schwartz, 1992 ) and measures of meaning ( Steger et al., 2006 ).

In the present article, we investigate the relationship between values and well-being and provide primary empirical evidence that suggests a strong association between the degree values, as a dynamic pattern, influence average levels of meaning and life satisfaction. We assess value patterns using Schwartz's (1992) 10 value domains model. Toward the validation of our study, and to address expressed skepticism over previous studies that used meaning measures ( Park, 2010 ; Leontiev, 2013 ), we assess whether relying on participants' subjective interpretations of “meaningful” undermines results.

1.1. Meaning in life and values

According to recent theoretical developments , meaning in life or meaning comprises comprehension, mattering and purpose : Comprehension refers to having clarity about one's life events; Mattering refers to having a sense that one's life is significant; Purpose refers to pursuing goals that are in line with one's values ( George and Park, 2017 ; Martela and Steger, 2016 ). In this way, values may be considered the motivational aspect of meaning ( Reker and Wong, 1988 ). Values refer to mental representations of ideal states that may motivate and guide behavior ( Maio, 2010 ; Schwartz, 1992 ). Over the last 30 years, cross-cultural studies have been showing that people share 10 value domains including Stimulation, Self-direction, Achievement, Hedonism, Power, Security, Conformity, Tradition, Benevolence and Universalism. Each value domain represents a number of single values and together they form a circular structure. Conservation, self-enhancement, openness to change and self-transcendence are four motivational orientations that underlie the circular structure, which represents 57 single values in total ( Schwartz, 1992 ).

1.2. Dimensions of meaning

There is a conceptual overlap between the four underlying motivational orientations of values ( Schwartz, 1992 ) and an early conceptualization that suggests that meaning has a depth dimension. Depth of meaning refers to four levels, each corresponding to a different type of motivation and set of values ( Reker and Wong, 1988 ). Both theories suggest that the type of experiences people find meaningful correspond to certain values ( Table 1 ). Another conceptual dimension of meaning in life is breadth, which refers to the number of areas people seek meaning or the number of sources of meaning ( O'Connor and Chamberlain, 1996 ). Studies that assess the relationship between sources of meaning and well-being and explore the elements that add meaning to daily experiences (e.g. Ebersole and DeVogler-Ebersole, 1986 ) suggest that people are more satisfied when they have diversity in the areas that provide them with meaning, compared to deriving meaning from a single source. Is there an association between breadth and depth of meaning? Do the two meaning dimensions influence the experience of meaning and life satisfaction? How does the structure of values influence well-being?

Table 1

Values associated with depth of meaning and the motivational orientation that underlies Schwartz's 10 basic value domains.

1.3. Value pattern

A person's value pattern represents what is important to them and influences their daily routines ( Besika et al., 2021 ; Verplanken and Sui, 2019 ). Studies suggest that from early childhood, people gradually integrate the circular structure of the 10 universal values and assign different priorities to each one at different stages of their development. For example, a longitudinal study with children between 7 and 11 year of age shows that the value of Security is predominantly important to young children as they need to feel safe in the world, whereas the value of Self-direction develops as they become familiar with their environment and want to explore it further ( Cieciuch et al., 2016 ). Another series of longitudinal studies with adolescents and adults that investigated intraindividual change in value priorities across time, indicate that value priorities change systematically after impactful life events. For example, when values of Benevolence decreased in importance values of Universalism increased in importance ( Bardi et al., 2009 ), even though these values are underlain by the same motivational orientation. Overall, conservation and self-transcendence values increase in importance and openness to change and self-enhancement values decrease in importance across the life span ( Ritter and Freund, 2014 ; Schwartz 2006 ).

In spite of the conceptualization of values as a dynamic system and empirical evidence suggesting that values fluctuate systematically, researchers typically use measures that involve pairwise comparisons of values and ask participants to rate the degree to which one value is more important to them in comparison to others (e.g., Oishi et al., 1999 ; Sortheix and Schwartz, 2017 ). Consequent analysis when assessing their relationship to well-being focuses on participants' value priorities and dismisses the role of less important values at the time of assessment. Assuming that value priorities form a cognitive pattern ( Schwartz, 1992 ), that fluctuates systematically ( Bardi et al., 2009 ), single value priorities do not provide the whole picture of the influence a person's value pattern has on their well-being ( Besika et al., 2021 ). These methodological limitations may explain the results in a study that assessed the relationship between the 10 value domains and the two subscales of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ) of presence and search for meaning ( Steger et al., 2006 ) and found no correlation, which contradicts findings indicating systematic associations between values and important life events ( Bardi et al., 2009 ). Could another methodology detect the suggested association between values and meaning? Moreover, previous studies that focus on value priorities report a negative association between certain values and life satisfaction (e.g., Kasser and Ahuvia, 2002 ; Sortheix and Schwartz, 2017 ). Do people's latent value patterns explain variance in life satisfaction better than their value priorities?

1.4. The present study

In the present study, we addressed the research question; do values influence the experience of meaning and life satisfaction? Firstly, we investigated whether providing a definition of “meaningful” influenced participants' responses to our meaning measures, as previous studies that assess meaning received skepticism that concerns participants' subjective interpretation of measures. For example, the item in the Meaning in Life Questionnaire “I am searching for meaning in my life” ( Steger et al., 2006 ) could potentially generate a variety of responses that depend on subjective interpretations of what is meant by “searching for meaning”. Secondly, we aimed to test three hypotheses. The first hypothesis is based on the theoretical assumptions that 10 value domains influence people's goals and behavior globally to a different degree ( Schwartz, 1992 ) and that when certain values are highly important to a person others are less important ( Bardi et al., 2009 ). Hypothesis 1: The most common source of meaning is positively associated with at least one of the 10 value domains and is negatively associated with at least another one of the 10 value domains. The second hypothesis assumes that people integrate the 10 value domains into their self-concept as a pattern that denotes their value priorities and influences their goals and daily actions ( Besika et al., 2021 ; Verplanken and Sui, 2019 ). Hypothesis 2: People are distinguished by their latent value patterns. The third hypothesis assumes that people's values underlie their meaningful experiences ( Reker and Wong, 1988 ) and that meaning is positively associated with life satisfaction ( King et al., 2006 ). Hypothesis 3: People's latent value profiles explain variance in meaning and life satisfaction measurements. In addition, we explored the questions: a) is there a relationship between breadth of meaning (i.e., the number of sources of meaning) and depth of meaning (i.e., the four motivational orientation of values)? and b) is there an association between the two meaning dimensions and measures of meaning and life satisfaction?

1.4.1. Addressing methodological challenges

Research evidence shows that values are not typically salient in people's awareness ( Verplanken and Holland, 2002 ). Thus, to investigate values we employed strategies to address the limitations imposed by their latent nature. In our study, we aimed to activate participants' values by engaging them in describing a recent meaningful experience and in evaluating the degree this experience contributed to the fulfillment of the 10 universal values. Another challenge was to eliminate researcher's biases from the process of compiling a list of sources of meaning ( Barbour, 2001 ) in order to investigate breadth of meaning. In previous studies, researchers typically either used a reductive or a deductive approach ( Fereday and Muir-Cochrane, 2006 ). In the reductive approach the list of sources of meaning was data-driven, where researchers coded participants' essays on what they considered meaningful (e.g., Lambert et al., 2013 ). The reductive approach involved providing participants with a theory-driven list of sources of meaning (e.g., Reker and Woo, 2011 ). To prevent imposing personal perceptions on our measure, we compiled a comprehensive list of sources of meaning from 15 previous studies, including an unpublished study conducted by university students. The outcome was a list of semantically unique items that allowed participants to code directly their accounts of experiencing meaning, without the need to transcribe qualitative data.

2. Materials and methods

2.1. participants and procedures.

The study was reviewed by the University's Institutional Review Board of Human Subjects Committee and was exempt from an ethical assessment, as it did not involve any risk to humans. Procedures were performed in accordance with the ethical standards as set forth in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. We determined the sample size based on a priori power calculation in G∗Power ( Faul et al., 2007 ) for means difference between two independent groups. The analysis showed that we could expect to observe a medium effect size of d = .50 ( Boer, 2017 ) with alpha = .05 and 95% power, with a minimum sample of N = 210. A total of 296 volunteers entered the Amazon's Mechanical Turk survey in exchange of $2. Eight participants did not consent to the study and 12 responses did not relate to the request to describe meaningful moments. The final sample was N = 276 (age M = 36.83, SD = 11.16, females = 137).

Participants gave their informed consent to participate in the study and were randomly assigned to condition. In group 1 (read definition) ( n = 146) participants read the following definition of “a meaningful experience”, based on a recent definition of meaning in life ( George and Park, 2017 ):

“A meaningful experience adds comprehension, mattering and purpose to one's life. (a) When we experience comprehension, we feel that life makes sense, things seem clear and everything is as it should be. In contrast, when we experience low comprehension, life seems incoherent and unclear. (b) When we experience mattering, we feel that our actions are in line with our entire life. Individuals with a low mattering feel that their existence makes no difference in the world. (c) When we experience purpose we engage with life and have clarity over what we strive for. Individuals experiencing low purpose feel that nothing seems worthwhile.”

In group 2 (wrote definition) ( n = 130) participants provided their own definition of “a meaningful experience”. Participants in both groups continued by describing their most meaningful experience of the “last two weeks”. Next, participants rated how meaningful their experience was and characterized it with an unrestricted number of sources of meaning from a 35-item list. Then, participants read descriptions of the 10 value domains and rated the degree those were relevant to their experience. Finally, participants completed three well-being scales and answered demographic questions.

2.2. Measures

2.2.1. value domains.

Using the single values that represent each value domain ( Schwartz, 1992 ) we created 10 brief descriptions (e.g., “Hedonism: a sensuous gratification associated with a sense of feel-good, fun, happiness, indulgence, leisure and pleasure ”) (see Appendix A: Tables A4 - A5). Participants rated the degree each of the 10 value domains was associated with their meaningful experience, on a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 ( very much ). The estimated reliability of the 10 value items was high (Cronbach's alpha = .90).

2.2.2. Breadth of meaning

We reviewed the literature and compiled a list of sources of meaning from studies that investigated breadth of meaning. This process resulted in a total of 106 items (Appendix A: Tables A1 - A3). We condensed the list in two steps. Firstly, we excluded 52 items, which we observed were identical to the single values described by Schwartz (1992) (e.g., fun, happiness, indulgence, leisure and pleasure). Secondly, we merged the items that were semantically unique (e.g., work and occupation = “work”). Finally, we gave brief descriptions to the remaining 35 sources (e.g., “ Flow : losing sense of time while doing something smoothly and effortlessly”). Participants coded their experiences with an unrestricted number of sources of meaning using 1 and 0. A numeric variable was computed by adding the number of sources of meaning participants used to characterize their meaningful experience.

2.2.3. Depth of meaning

Depth of meaning helped to explore the relationship between the motivational orientation of values and the well-being variables. A four level categorical variable was dummy-coded based on the values’ motivational orientation. Values corresponding to conservation (Security, Conformity, Tradition) were coded with 1; to self-enhancement (Achievement, Hedonism, Power) with 2; to openness to change (Stimulation, Self-direction) with 3; and to self-transcendence (Benevolence and Universalism) with 4 ( Schwartz, 1992 ; Schwartz and Bilsky, 1987 ).

2.2.4. Meaningfulness

Participants rated how meaningful their experience was on a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 ( very much ).

2.2.5. Well-being

The Multidimensional Existential Meaning Scale (MEMS; George and Park, 2017 ) was used to measure meaning in life as comprising comprehension (Cronbach's alpha = 0.94), mattering (Cronbach's alpha = 0.85) and purpose (Cronbach's alpha = 0.89). Participants rated 15 items (e.g., “I have overarching goals that guide me in my life”). The MLQ ( Steger et al., 2006 ) was used to measure the dimensions of presence (Cronbach's alpha = 0.91) and search for meaning (Cronbach's alpha = 0.94). Participants rated 10 items (e.g., “I understand my life's meaning”). The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener et al., 1985 ) (Cronbach's alpha = .93) has been widely used in studies as a well-being measure. It measures life satisfaction as a subjective evaluation of one's life as a whole. Participants rated five items (e.g., “In most ways my life is close to my ideal”). All well-being measures were rated on a 7-point Likert scale, from 1 (very strongly disagree) to 7 ( very strongly agree ).

2.3. Analytic strategy

Analyses was conducted in SPSS Statistics (version 23.0.0) and RStudio (version 1.4.1106) ( R Core Team, 2020 ). To determine whether analyses would require group comparison, we first compared means of well-being measures across the two conditions to test whether reading a definition of “meaningful” had an effect. Correlation analysis helped us explore our questions regarding the relationship between breadth and depth of meaning and well-being. In contrast to the typical value-priority-centered approach, we followed a person-centered approach toward testing our three hypotheses. Once we identified the most common source of meaning people associated with their meaningful experience, we conducted multiple logistic regressions to test whether this source was significantly associated with any of the 10 value domains (Hypothesis 1). Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) revealed unobserved subgroups based on participants’ ratings of the 10 value domains, in relation to their meaningful experience (Hypothesis 2) . In aiming to eliminate research biases from our investigation we relied on a mathematical evaluation to determine the number of latent value profiles (LVPs) that best represented the data. Finally, we used analysis of variance and multiple group comparisons to test whether LVPs explained variance in meaning and life satisfaction measures ( Hypothesis 3 ).

3.1. Definition effect

Shapiro-Wilk tests revealed that the data was not normally distributed as the W values were all significant for the well-being scores. Thus, we conducted nonparametric Mann-Whitney U tests ( Mann and Whitney, 1947 ; Wilcoxon, 1945 ) to compare the means of MLQ, MEMS subscales and the SWLS in the two conditions. Table 2 reports the results in detail that showed no significant differences across conditions. Given that reading a definition of “meaningful” had no effect, we continued by utilizing the whole dataset.

Table 2

Mann-Whitney U test for two independent samples explored differences between conditions.

Note. MLQ = Meaning in Life Questionnaire; MEMS = Multidimensional Existential Meaning Scale; SWLS = Satisfaction With Life Scale; Condition 1 = group that read a definition = 130; Condition 2 = group that provided a definition = 146; SD = standard deviation; U = Mann-Whitney U; p = p -value.

3.2. Breadth of meaning and well-being

Spearman's rank-order correlations were used to measure the strength of association between the two dimensions of meaning, breadth and depth, and the relationship of breadth with the three well-being measures. There was no association between breadth and depth of meaning ( r = 0, p = .998). However, breadth demonstrated small significant correlations with MLQ, MEMS and SWLS, with the exception of the presence of meaning subscale of the MLQ ( r = .01, p = .27). Search for meaning: r = .14, p < .001; Comprehension: r = .12, p < .001; Purpose: r = .13, p < .001; Mattering: r = .05, p < .001; and the SWLS, r = .08, p < .001.

3.3. Depth of meaning and well-being

We correlated the means of the 10 value domains with the means of the MLQ and MEMS subscales as well as with the means of the SWLS and of ratings of how meaningful the experience was ( Table 3 ). Most of the 10 value displayed small significant positive correlations with all the measures. There were fewer significant correlations with the presence of meaning (MLQ) and the purpose (MEMS) subscales. All 10 value domains correlated significantly with the meaningfulness of the experience. Furthermore, we performed analysis of variance to explore whether the well-being scores varied across depth of meaning or the four motivational orientations of the 10 value domains. Significant F values in Levene's tests indicated that the homogeneity of variance assumption was violated. Hence, instead of performing ANOVA we conducted the nonparametric Kruskal–Wallis test ( Kruskal and Wallis, 1952 ). Non-significant results indicated that there were no distinct associations between the four underlying motivational orientations of values and the well-being measures in our sample (Appendix B: Table 1 ).

Table 3

Spearman's correlations between the 10 value domains, meaning and life satisfaction measures and “How meaningful” ratings.

Note: N = 276; MLQ = Meaning in Life Questionnaire; MEMS = Multidimensional Existential Meaning Scale; SWLS = Satisfaction With Life Scale; Meaningful = ratings relating to how meaningful participants' experience was; ∗p < .05, ∗∗p < .001 after Bonferroni alpha correction.

3.4. Sources of meaning

We calculated the frequencies of the sources of meaning that participants used to characterize their most meaningful experience with ( Figure 1 ). All 35 sources of meaning were included in the frequency pattern. “Family” (i.e., people you are related to or feel close to, like parents or children whether you live together or not) was the most common source.

Figure 1

Frequencies of 35 sources of meaning associated with meaningful experiences.

3.5. Hypothesis 1: sources of meaning may correlate positively with some and negatively with other values

We conducted binary logistic regression analysis where the most common source of meaning (“Family”) was regressed on the 10 values as multiple predictors. A significant Likelihood ratio and a non-significant Hosmer & Lemeshow suggested that the model was a good fit to the data. Table 4 presents results confirming our hypothesis , as the value of Tradition was positively associated with “Family”, whereas the value of Universalism reduced the likelihood of “Family” being a source of meaning. Every unit of increase in Tradition increased the odds of “Family” characterizing meaningful experiences by 34%; every unit of increase in rating Universalism reduced these odds by 28% ( Peng et al., 2002 ). As expected, the most common source of meaning amongst participants was associated positively with a value domain and negatively associated with another value domain.

Table 4

Results of logistic regression analysis with the 10 universal value domains as the predictors of “Family”, the most frequent source of meaning.

Note: N = 276; Cox and Snell R 2 = .147, Nagelkerke R 2 (Max rescaled R 2 ) = .197.

∗p < .05 after alpha Bonferroni correction.

3.6. Hypothesis 2: value priorities form distinguishable latent value profiles

Using the poLCA package in RStudio ( Linzer and Lewis, 2011 ) we conducted LPA to identify unobserved subgroups of participants differentiated by systematically diverging patterns of value ratings. We fitted a 1- up until 4-profile models and consulted their fit indices to decide on the number of profiles that best represented the data. Multiple fit indices dropped substantially with an additional number of profiles and started to increase in the 4-profiles model, indicating that the 3-profile solution was the best ( Oberski, 2016 ) ( Table 5 ). The rating response probabilities in each of the three profiles suggested three distinguishable latent value profiles that facilitated a conceptually meaningful interpretation. Accordingly, we interpreted that participants’ value ratings in relation to their meaningful experiences indicated their level of value orientation (LVO) or the degree to which the 10 universal values were important to them. In LVP-1, participants had low -LVO, as indicated by their value ratings (1); in LVP-2 participants had a moderate -LVO, as indicated by their value ratings (2–4); and in LVP-3 participants had high -LVO, as indicated by their value ratings (5–6) ( Table 6 ). The probability of membership showed that 41% ( n = 115, age M = 38.37, SD = 11.09, females = 64) were expected to belong to the low -LVO group, 38% ( n = 105, age M = 37.25, SD = 12.16, females = 53) to the moderate -LVO group and 21% ( n = 56, age M = 32.86, SD = 8.17, females = 21) to the high -LVO group. Figure 2 illustrates the patterns formed by the value means of the three LVO groups. These results supported our Hypothesis 2 .

Table 5

Fit statistics of Latent Profile Analysis based on ratings of the 10 universal value domains ( Schwartz, 1992 ) associated with meaningful experiences.

Note. N = 276; K = number of profiles; LL = log-likelihood; BIC = Bayesian Information Criterion; SABIC = Sample-size adjusted BIC; CAIC = Consistent Akaike Information Criterion; AWE = Approximate Weight of Evidence Criterion; BLRT = bootstrapped likelihood ratio test; p = p -value.

Table 6

Item-response probabilities in percentages for a 3-profile model, based on participants’ ratings of the 10 universal values.

Note. Text in bold highlights the highest value ratings in each of the three latent value profiles.

Figure 2

Patterns of means of the 10 value domains of the three value profiles participants associated with their meaningful experiences.

3.7. Hypothesis 3: average levels of well-being vary across latent value profiles

To investigate differences in the means of MLQ and MEMS subscales, the SWLS and in the ratings of how meaningful across the three LVO groups we conducted analysis of variance. The significant F values of the Levene's tests indicated that the homogeneity of variance assumption was violated. Hences, we conducted a series of Kruskal–Wallis tests ( Kruskal and Wallis, 1952 ) to calculate the well-being measurements' means across groups. Table 7 reports the full results, which confirm our hypothesis . To identify where the differences between LVO groups occurred, we conducted nonparametric pairwise comparisons using the Dunn test ( Dinno, 2015 ). Analysis revealed significant differences in the mean scores of the MLQ and MEMS subscales, the SWLS and ratings of “how meaningful” across the LVO groups. Differences emerged mainly between high to moderate and high to low- LVO groups ( Figure 3 ).

Table 7

Kruskal-Wallis tests for differences between meaning and life satisfaction measures across the three latent value profile groups, denoting level of value orientation (LVO).

Note: N = 276; LVO = level of value motivation; MLQ = Meaning in Life Questionnaire; MEMS = Multidimensional Existential Meaning Scale; SWLS = Satisfaction With Life Scale; χ 2 = Kruskal-Wallis chi-squared; r = effect.

Figure 3

Multiple pairwise comparisons showing differences in the means of well-being measures across the three latent value profiles that participants associated with their meaningful experiences.

4. Discussion

The present work contributes to previous research indicating that people share an intuitive understanding of meaning and that subjective judgments seem to be appropriate for capturing its phenomenological experience ( King et al., 2006 ). In spite of suggestions that a definition is necessary when measuring meaning in life (e.g., De Vogler-Ebersole and Ebersole, 1985 ) as it is hard to define and verbalize ( Huta, 2016 ; Steger et al., 2013 ), providing a definition of “meaningful” did not influence participants' responses to our measures. Moreover, a cross-sectional study supported three theory-driven hypotheses: First, that a source of meaning can be positively associated with one value while being negatively associated with another value. Second, that there are interindividual difference in participants' unobserved value patterns. Third, that people's latent value patterns can explain variance in well-being measures.

Converging with research indicating that people hold a common set of values ( Schwartz, 1992 ) that contribute toward making sense of life ( Reker and Wong, 1988 ), in the current study, 10 universal value domains were positively associated with the scales of MLQ ( cf. Steger et al., 2006 ), MEMS and SWLS. Overall, values contributed positively to meaningful experiences, regardless of their underlying motivational orientation ( cf. Reker and Wong, 1988 ; Schwartz, 1992 ). This robust relationship further emerged during the process of constructing a list of sources of meaning, where we identified that 52 items used in previous studies that investigated breadth of meaning constitute single values of the Schwartz's model (1992). Our findings did not converge with previous studies that report negative associations between certain values and the SWLS (e.g., the value of success that is under the domain of Achievement; Kasser and Ryan, 1996 ). Self-transcending values did not display a stronger association to meaning measures than conservation values did. Thus, depth of meaning was not associated with higher levels of meaning ( cf. Reker and Wong, 1988 ) and values characterized mundane meaningful experiences regardless of their underlying motivational orientation. These results do not support research that characterizes certain values (e.g., Security) as “unhealthy” ( cf. Sortheix and Schwartz, 2017 ). Regarding the breadth dimension of meaning, in line with previous research findings, which associate diversity and the number of sources of meaning with increased life satisfaction ( Martela and Steger, 2016 ; Reker, and Wong, 1988 ; Wong, 2012 ), there were indications that widening the breadth of meaning may increase meaning and life satisfaction.

The current study replicated previous empirical evidence suggesting that “Family” is the most common source of meaning (e.g., Baum and Stewart, 1990 ; O'Connor and Chamberlain, 1996 ). In line with previous research suggesting that focusing on one value may decrease the importance of others ( Bardi et al., 2009 ), “Family” was positively associated with one value domain (Tradition) and was negatively associated with another (Universalism). Participants who valued Tradition were likely to find meaning in family-related experiences whereas those who valued Universalism were not likely to find meaning in such experiences. Interestingly, in spite of its negative association to family-related experiences, Universalism correlated positively with the meaning and life satisfaction measures. This discrepancy may be explained by the dynamic relationship of values, as their importance fluctuates systematically ( Bardi et al., 2009 ). Thus, when people place high importance on their immediate environment (values of Benevolence) they shift their focus away from matters concerning their broader social context (values of Universalism) ( Besika et al., 2021 ). Similarly to findings indicating that a universal pairing of values to pleasurable experiences is unlikely to exist ( Oishi et al., 1999 ), paired associations between sources of meaning and values cannot be generalized, as multiple values were associated to a single source of meaning. This observation converges with a recent theoretical development proposing that focusing on value priorities when investigating the relationship between values and well-being might constitute a limited approach to understanding the influence of the dynamic pattern of values on well-being ( Besika et al., 2021 ).

In the present study, identifying unobserved value profiles and investigating their relationship to well-being measurements introduced an alternative approach to explaining interindividual differences in average levels of meaning and life satisfaction. Three distinct latent value profiles described the data and explained variance in well-being measurements across the three corresponding groups. The degree to which a cognitive pattern of 10 value domains ( Schwartz, 1992 ) influenced daily meaningful experiences was associated with interindividual differences in the average levels people experienced meaning and life satisfaction. Participants with high -LVO (e.g., high level of value orientation) reported higher levels of meaning and life satisfaction compared to participants with low - and moderate- LVO. These results reflect previous findings suggesting that people's activities are meaningful when they align with their core values ( McGregor and Little, 1998 ; Sheldon and Elliot, 1999 ) and converge with studies reporting that experiences congruent with personal values are satisfying ( Oishi et al., 1999 ). Our findings also converge with another piece of evidence suggesting that when people's daily habits are close to their values people display strongly integrated self, high levels of increased self-esteem and a self-regulation style that tends to accomplish positive outcomes ( Verplanken and Sui, 2019 ). Finally, the current results support recent findings indicating that people's value patterns, denoting the degree to which the 10 universal value domains influence their goals and actions consciously, influence their psychological balance and overall well-being ( Besika et al., 2021 ).

The positive association of values to meaningful experiences and meaning measures supports the theoretical suggestion that meaning as a process has a dual movement. Moving downward, from the abstract level of cognitive functioning meaning constructs concrete experiences that generate a sense of satisfaction; moving upward, from the concrete level of behavior meaning deconstructs concrete experiences into abstract ideas, such as values ( Mackenzie and Baumeister, 2014 ). This dual meaning movement implies an underlying mechanism that connects cognition to emotion and behavior.

4.1. Limitations

The present work indicates that people share an intuitive understanding of “meaningful”, adding validity to our results and to previous studies on meaning. However, we acknowledge a limitation in the design of the conditions that tested the effect of providing a definition of “meaningful” on subjective evaluations of meaning. To provide a clearer indication regarding the presence or absence of an effect of providing a definition, future studies may refrain from including any kind of definition in the control group. Furthermore, methodological limitations concern the susceptibility of participants' responses to retrospective biases that could have influenced participants’ ratings of the 10 value domains in relation to their manifestation in their experience over the previous two weeks. Longitudinal studies that involve samples of different cultures may further investigate the association of values to meaningful experiences. Daily diary reports may also facilitate investigations of fluctuations in the value patterns in response to daily challenges.

4.2. Conclusion

This article makes an incremental contribution toward understanding the important and yet underexplored relationship between values, meaning and life satisfaction. In line with previous studies that report meaning as a marker of well-being, our results show that a single source of meaning may be associated with multiple values. People find meaning mostly in family-related experiences and adding variety to the sources of meaning may increase life satisfaction and contribute toward value fulfillment. Moving beyond the typical focus on value priorities, the present work investigates people's latent value patterns, which provide new insights into the relationship between values and well-being. Three latent value profiles, denoting the level of people's value orientation, assessed by the level participants associated the 10 universal values with recent meaningful experiences, explained interindividual differences in the average levels of meaning and life satisfaction. In contrast to previous studies, our results indicate that values influence well-being as patterns and all 10 universal values may contribute positively to well-being, regardless of their underlying motivational orientation. In conclusion, focusing on value priorities may raise barriers in understanding the influence of values on daily experiences and overall well-being. This new perspective may stimulate future research as it implies an underlying mechanism that facilitates the systematic behavior of values and translates them into meaningful and satisfying experiences.


Author contribution statement.

Anastasia Besika: Conceived and designed the experiments; Performed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Wrote the paper.

Jonathan W. Schooler: Conceived and designed the experiments; Wrote the paper.

Bas Verplanken: Conceived and designed the experiments; Wrote the paper.

Alissa J. Mrazek: Conceived and designed the experiments; Performed the experiments; Wrote the paper.

Elliott D. Ihm: Conceived and designed the experiments; Performed the experiments; Wrote the paper.

Funding statement

This research was supported by the Fetzer Franklin Fund, awarded to Jonathan W. Schooler, with grant number 44069-59380.

Data availability statement

Declaration of interests statement.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

No additional information is available for this paper.


Anastasia Besika acknowledges Xianmin Gong from The Chinese University of Hong Kong for his constructive feedback and fruitful discussions.

Appendix A. Supplementary data

The following is the supplementary data related to this article:

Appendix A: a) Tables A1 – A3 that explain the process of formulating the list of sources of meaning and b) Tables A4 – A5 showing the 57 single values represented by the 10 value domains and the value descriptions we used in our study.

Appendix B: Table 1.

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