Human Values: a Historical and Interdisciplinary Analysis

ABSTRACT - . . . Values are so inextricably woven into our language, thought and behavior patterns that they have fascinated philosophers for millennia. Yet they have proved so "quick-silvery" and complex that, despite their decisive role in human motivation, we remain desperately ignorant of the laws that govern them. (Toffler, 1969)


C. Joseph Clawson and Donald E. Vinson (1978) ,"Human Values: a Historical and Interdisciplinary Analysis", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 396-402.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 396-402


C. Joseph Clawson, University of Southern California

Donald E. Vinson, University of Southern California


. . . Values are so inextricably woven into our language, thought and behavior patterns that they have fascinated philosophers for millennia. Yet they have proved so "quick-silvery" and complex that, despite their decisive role in human motivation, we remain desperately ignorant of the laws that govern them. (Toffler, 1969)

One of the most curious anomalies in the field of consumer research has been the lack of attention devoted to human values. This is particularly paradoxical considering that most serious students of human behavior have argued for centuries that values play an important role in personal, social and cultural activity. Where the term "values" has been employed, it has typically been confused with the concept of product attributes by attitude researchers. While a few contemporary studies have emerged suggesting significant correlation between values and consumer behavior (Scott and Lamont, 1972; Vinson and Munson, 1976; Henry, 1976; Vinson, Scott and Lamont, 1977), consumer researchers have, for the most part, adopted a hands-off attitude toward the value construct. In dramatic contrast, marketing practitioners have become very sophisticated in developing advertising and mass communication appeals involving allusions to important human values. In fact, we would argue that marketing appeals have traditionally been highly value oriented. Apparently, marketing practitioners understand what most marketing academics fail to recognize -- human values play an important role in consumer behavior.

What could explain this disparity between what marketers do and what we in academia study? One plausible explanation may be that academics have concentrated their attention and technical skills almost entirely on consumers' more rational beliefs with respect to tangible product attributes and marketing characteristics --such realities as color, price, taste and availability. A contrasting but much less popularly held view is that practitioners may have forged years ahead of our scientific decision theories. While academic researchers argue about Ai's and Bi's and report low R2's from attitude studies, practitioners are appealing to deep, emotion-laden values and providing powerful stimulation to sales.

In order to emphasize that the analysis of human values is not just another new fad in consumer research, or a minor variation on product attribute studies, we shall present a historical review of the value concept from antiquity to the present day. However, the subject of values has been of intense interest through much of recorded history and has generated a vast literature. Consequently, our discussion must be narrowed by two rules. First, we shall be concerned only with analyzing subjective values that consumers actually hold. These are distinct from objective or true values, as might be determined by scientific facts or religious insights. Second, we shall focus on the values that objects, such as goods and services, have to consumers, but only insofar as market value can be related to specific human values that people themselves hold. This seemingly innocent restriction eliminates almost, but not quite, all of economic theory of consumer demand for the past two hundred years. What is often called value theory in economics is primarily concerned with market value, not human values.


Initially, most of the thinking on market value and consumer values was contributed by the philosophers and religious leaders of Europe. During the late 1700's, there began to emerge various branches of philosophy which we now call the "social sciences."


Since the days of the ancient Greeks, philosophers have been concerned with values on a rather tangential basis. References to values were unavoidable as Aristotle, Kant, and others discussed aesthetics, or as Plato, Hobbes, and Rousseau deliberated over the problems of government and citizen responsibility. But, as Wekmeister points out (1967), no general theory of values was developed or enunciated by any of these thinkers.

Some ancient insights into the nature and importance of wants, needs, or values as the motivators of consumer demand are worthy of note. Aristotle argued that man obtains greater pleasure from an object when it is his own, for the love of self is a feeling implanted by nature and not given in vain. There is also great pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which is facilitated by possessions (Haney, 1936). Thus pride of possessions and hospitality were identified as what we would now call consumer values.

Buridan (1300-1358) followed Aristotle in stating that the measure of value in goods is to be found in the satisfaction of wants, greater need resulting in higher value. Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694) asserted that the price or value of any action or thing depends on its fitness to obtain, directly or indirectly, the necessaries, conveniences, or pleasures of human life. Nicholas Barbon in 1680 refuted the notion that economic ends are necessarily tangible, or that pleasures and pains have to be physical (Ibid.). In parallel thought, Galiani in 1750 stressed the desire for social distinction, in the form of rank, titles, honors, nobility, and authority, which he held to be stronger than the desire for luxuries, which in turn was stronger than the desire of the hungry for food (Georgescu-Roegen, 1968).

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a non-practicing lawyer, was a major contributor to the hedonistic and instrumentalistic interpretations of behavior. His Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Patterson, 1932) revealed his conviction that cultural values as well as all other instrumental acts are ultimately learned through reinforcement or inhibition, which he called the principle of utility. According to him, utility is that property in any object which produces benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, or prevents mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party making the decision. One of Bentham's less well known works, A Table of the Springs of Action (1815), foreshadowed Kurt Lewin's psychological field theory as well as later compensatory multiattribute models. He observed that multiple, conflicting motives are often simultaneously at work, with the dominant motive or group of motives determining the final decision (McReynolds, 1969). Bentham's fourteen springs of action foreshadowed by more than a century some of the great value lists to be discussed later. He included taste, sexual appetite, wealth, power, curiosity, amity, reputation, religion, sympathy, antipathy, self-interest, and the pains of labor and physical suffering.

The question of values first began to emerge as a separate and unique issue in Germany during the early 1800's. Indeed, intense scholarly debate as to the source, nature, and even existence of things called values signaled the acknowledgment of axiology (the study of value) as a legitimate and fruitful area of academic inquiry. The basic problem confronting the study of values from a philosophical perspective relates to the axiological question of whether or not values are subjective or objective. Those proposing the "objectivity" of values are in essence suggesting that values are independent of a subject or a valuing consciousness. Conversely, the "subjective" position holds that values owe their existence, their validity, to the subject who does the valuing (Frondizi, 1963). As a case in point, one could evaluate an individual's appreciation of a beautiful painting as either the recognition of certain values existing and associated with the particular work of art, or as the person's personal preference or liking of the objet d'art which gives it its value.

Meinong was the first subjectivist to address himself to the problem of the nature of values. Something has value, he said, "when it pleases us, and to the extent that it pleases us" (Ibid., p. 34). In a similar vein, Ehrenfels believed, "Things which we desire or covet are valuable, and they are so because we desire and covet them" (Ibid., p. 37). Supporting the subjective position, Bertrand Russell said, "The chief ground for adopting the subjective view of values is the complete impossibility of finding any arguments to prove that this or that has intrinsic value." It is "our desires which confer value" (Russell, 1925).

The objective approach to values was championed by Hartmann and Scheler. These two scholars believed that the study of values represented the investigation of a legitimate scientific field, unlike Russell who held that questions which refer to values were outside the realm of science. Hartmann approached the concept of value in strictly logical terms; to him, the value predicate is a property of concepts rather than objects (Hartmann, 1967). Scheler argued that, if all values were relative to life, as the subjectivists suggest, then life itself could not possibly have any value. Value independence implies their immutability; they are not dependent upon any act, regardless of its nature, be it historical, social, biological or purely individual. It is only knowledge of values which is relative, not values themselves (Frondizi, p. 82). In addition to values being independent of their corresponding carriers, Scheler held that they exist in a hierarchical order. This order is expressed by "preferring" or "deferring"; we prefer one course of action, one good, one mode of behavior to another as we prefer "a given value to another, regardless of the carrier" (Ibid., p. 84).

Those value philosophers of the objective persuasion acknowledge that valuation is indeed subjective; however, one must distinguish between valuation and value. On this point, Frondizi states that value is prior to valuation -- if there were no values, what would people evaluate (Ibid., p. 15)? Values then are those things which are evaluated in the valuation process.

Modern social thinkers have generally embraced the objectivist position and regard the emergence of values as a social-cultural process. Nietzsche (1844-1900) interpreted the dynamic character of history as the continuous creation and annihilation of values. Men create values which stabilize cultures, albeit temporarily, until these values are subsequently replaced by another set which allow the upsurge of a new human culture (Ibid., p. 33).

Behavioral Sciences

Anthropology. Anthropologists have contributed enormously to the study of human values through their examination of cultural patterns and life styles. Clyde Kluckhohn shifted anthropological thinking away from the view that all cultures are relative. Despite wide differences in customs, there are certain fundamental human values common to all of the diverse cultures of the world (Kluckhohn, 1951). Further, Kluckhohn devoted considerable effort to the classification of values as well as to the distinguishing dimensions of values. Expanding his work, Florence Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck developed a five-part typology of value orientations and employed it to build a theory of cultural variation. They concluded that society requires conformity if man is to be a social animal and that societies create the value system to which men must conform (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, 1961).

Another anthropologist interested in values was Dorothy Lee, who studied the Arapesh of New Guinea in their food gathering activities. She discovered that the structuring of their food-getting procedures was appallingly inefficient from the point of view of food production, but it was eminently efficient from the point of view of infusing [values] into their lives (Lee, 1959). As Ayres so appropriately states," . . it is perfectly true that every culture includes a considerable admixture of irrationality -- that values exist and are cherished with the highest degree of intensity which owe virtually nothing to science but are virtually pure expressions of community sentiments and attitudes fortified by tribal legends and ceremonials of every kind" (Ayers, 1950).

Sociology. Ferdinand Tonnies regarded values as a critical element in his classic distinction between community and society -- between those systems which emphasized Gemeinschaft (primary, small, traditional, integrated values) and those which stressed Gesellshaft (impersonal, secondary, large, socially differentiated values) (Tonnies, 1957). In a similar vein, Durkheim described his "collective consciousness" as a system of values and beliefs held in common by the members of a society that define what their mutual relations ought to be (Durkheim, 1960). In the case of mechanical solidarity, the group's values are not clearly differentiated from the norms through which they are implemented; in organic solidarity, the norms have independent salience.

The study of values was considered the core of sociological inquiry for Becker (1941). He considered values as indispensable in analyzing judgments of right and wrong, good and bad, superiority and inferiority, usefulness and uselessness, and in determining the means and ends of human action. In agreement, Blau (1964) suggests that a prime determinant of social conduct is the institutionalized system of values in a society. Values define group identity, common standards of morality and achievement and legitimize governing authority. While the sociology literature contains voluminous references to values, some of the more significant contributions involve the following areas of sociological inquiry: measurement and quantitative techniques (Lundberg, 1941); "pattern variable" analysis (Parsons, 1969); deviant behavior (Parsons, 1951); content mobility in education (Turner, 1961); social differentiation (Sorokin, 1947); social exchange (Blau, op. cit); socialization (Brim, 1966); and the theory of values, value system organization and the role of values in social behavior (Rokeach, 1968a, 1968b, 1968-69).

Psychology. Psychologists have generally focused on more narrowly circumscribed constructs such as attitudes, motives, valences, and cathexes. However, in the 1920's, Thomas and Znaniecki recognized the importance of values and defined them as ". . . objective, social elements which impose themselves upon the individual as a given and provoke his reaction" (Thomas and Znaniecki, 1927).

Another early landmark in psychological analysis of values was the publication of the English translation of Spranger's Types of Men (Spranger, 1928). Believing that values are reflected in all behavior, Spranger constructed a value system typology which purported to classify men according to six basic personality characteristics. Values could be clustered into systems representing types of men whose personality manifestations tended to be theoretical, economic, aesthetic, social, political, or religious. He did, however, admit that personality did not depend exclusively upon any one of these value orientations in total; he conceded that all six orientations probably exerted influence to varying degrees. Nevertheless, it was his contention that the individual's predominant value orientation structured his personality.

A renowned empirical investigation emerging from the Spranger tradition was undertaken by Allport and Vernon during the early 1930's (Allport and Vernon, 1931). Their study employed an instrument designed to test the relative strength of the values associated with Spranger's six personality types. In replications over a large number of heterogeneous subjects, they reported reliability measures of over .72. Corroborating these findings, Pinter (1933) and Evans (1952) indicate the validity of the "Types of Man" approach to the study of values and support the notion that values are socially learned.

A contemporary of Allport's, also teaching at Harvard in the late 1930's, was Henry A. Murray. As part of a team of clinical investigators, he developed what is one of the most widely used list of needs today (Murray, 1938). The list contains 28 secondary or psychogenic needs and 12 viscerogenic needs. In an easily overlooked passage, Murray clearly pointed out that needs are not identical with values: ". . . From one point of view, the important thing is not whether a subject has a need for Achievement or for Affiliation or for Rejection, but rather what it is he wishes to achieve, affiliate himself with, or reject."

By 1942, Kurt Lewin was conducting research using the equivalent of a simple linear compensatory version of the expectancy-value formula and applied it to a mixture of four product attributes and personal values. These "frames of reference" consisted of expense, health, taste, and status. He asked three questions: (1) What are the values for this group? (2) What is the relative weight of each value? (3) How are specific foods linked with certain values? (Lewin, 1943).

In the mid 1950's Maslow advanced his hierarchical groupings of needs into those that were concerned with safety, security, love, self-esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). Morris (Handy, 1970) discussed value theory in considerable detail and developed a list of thirteen "ways to live" which were conceptions of the good life that respondents were asked to rate as to degree of liking. Rosenberg (1956) suggested that values and needs are pervasive in the individual's cognitive structure and attempted to measure the importance of a given value or set of values relative to an attitude object. Thurstone then proposed that values could be measured and, with the aid of the comparative judgment technique, developed a scale of "moral" values (Thurstone, 1954). W. A. Scott described a method for measuring the values and ideologies of a culture (Scott, 1959). Woodruff and Divesta measured the values of college students and showed their relationship to attitudes (Woodruff and Divesta, 1948).

One of the most influential of modern contributors to the psychological theory of personal values is Milton Rokeach. According to Rokeach, adults possess many thousands of attitudes toward specific objects and situations but relatively few terminal and instrumental values -- perhaps only several dozen instrumental values and a few "handfuls" of terminal values (Ibid., 162). This difference in number suggests to him that values and attitudes are connected in a hierarchical system. This cognitively connected, hierarchical structure is arranged along a central-peripheral dimension and in a psychological sense is internally consistent. Any change in one part of the value-attitude system will affect the other parts. However, the most central or salient elements are more resistant to change and, when they do undergo a restructuring, they exert greater influence upon the other components of the system.

The reliability of the Rokeach paradigm has been verified under many replications (Robinson and Shaver, 1971) and Rokeach has found that various combinations of terminal and instrumental values significantly differentiate among people with extremely diverse social and economic status characteristics (Rokeach, 1968-69). Unlike most cognitive approaches to social psychology, his paradigm focuses upon values rather than attitudes. According to Rokeach, values are culturally derived, and define, maintain and regulate the visible social structure; they give it meaning, stability and cohesion. "To say that a person 'has a value' is to say that he has an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end- state of existence is personally and socially preferable to alternative modes of conduct or end-states of existence (Rokeach, 1968, p. 167). Instrumental values relate to modes of conduct and terminal values have to do with preferred end-states of existence. The eighteen terminal and eighteen instrumental values developed by Rokeach had test-retest reliabilities in the .70's after seven weeks (Ibid., p. 167).

Like values, attitudes are also based upon beliefs. But rather than a single belief, they represent the focusing of several beliefs upon an object or situation and predispose the individual to respond in some preferential manner.

For purposes of research in consumer behavior, Rokeach's excellent paradigm contains a few limitations. Three should be noted. One flaw is the use of rank orderings, which, for all its speed and simplicity, is less informative than interval or ratio scaling would be. Equally attractive values are forced into separate rankings. Wide gaps in preference are treated as no different from minuscule gaps.

A second problem is with the instructions, which bias the rankings in favor of deprived values and against satiated values. Saying to a respondent that his task is to arrange the value statements in order of their importance to him, as guiding principles in his life (Rokeach, 1973, p. 358), does not allow him to distinguish between permanent esteem of the value and situational need for the value. For instance, the lowest income respondents rate "a comfortable life" and "clean" relatively high, while wealthy respondents rate them quite low. The low income respondents presumably need, or lack, these conditions, the high income respondents already possess them, but both groups could esteem them equally. Similarly, black Americans need and rate equality very high, while white Americans need it less and rate it as only moderately important (Ibid., p. 393). It is still not known whether there is a real difference between whites and blacks in permanent esteem of equality.

The third drawback is that Rokeach's lists of 18 instrumental values and 18 terminal values appear to omit a substantial number of other values that are held by substantial portions of the populace. They include, for example, Life, Physical Energy, Physical Strength, Physical Attractiveness, Youthfulness, Family, Enjoyment, Power, Leadership, Courage, Individualism, Conformity, Mental Energy, Practicality, and Efficiency. Such values are often appealed to in advertising.

The final psychologist making a distinguished contribution to the theory of human values, applicable to consumer behavior, is McGuire. His most complete analysis is published as a chapter in a book on gratifications obtained through mass communications (McGuire, 1974). His classifications of motives, he believes, "must sensibly be expanded to include lists of instincts, . . . emotions, . . . values, . . . temperaments, . . . and motivation-connoting personality dimensions" (Ibid., p. 170; italics added). The impressive and useful result is a table consisting of 16 classifications of motives.

Value Measurements in Behavioral Sciences. The fertile generation of value-related concepts by anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists has been paralleled by a stream of value-measurement scales. Twelve scales which may be of use to consumer researchers are reproduced in a single document (Robinson and Shaver, op. cit.), with references given after each scale.

Marketing. The first academic contributions to formal marketing thought on consumer values were made by Harvard's Melvin Copeland in 1924. After analyzing the appeals used in 936 advertisements in American magazines published during 1923, he concluded that all the buying motives to which they appealed could be classified on two dimensions. First, when sorted according to the type of decision that was to be made, motives could be sorted into "primary" motives affecting choice of product class, "selective" motives influencing brand choice, and "patronage" motives determining store choice (Copeland, 1924).

The second dimension was considered by Copeland as more basic. He said that motives could also be sorted according to elements entering into the decisions; this resulted in "emotional" motives being distinguished from "rational" motives (Ibid., p. 162).

According to Copeland, the 23 emotional motives had their origin in human instincts and emotions. They represented impulsive or unreasoning promptings to action, and could not be aroused by appeals to reason. Examples from his list are pride of personal appearance, social achievement, expression of artistic taste, romantic instinct, cleanliness, entertainment (Ibid., p. 163-178). These motives closely correspond to the relatively central or global personal values which Rokeach has called instrumental and terminal values. So far as we have been able to ascertain, Copeland was the first marketing scholar to distinguish formally between what we consider as human values, as one category, and what are commonly referred to as product or marketing attributes, as a separate category.

A lengthier classified list of 128 values was developed by Clawson, a student of Allport's (Clawson, 1946, pp. 26-27, 271-274), and was based on content analysis of several hundred best-read advertisements and numerous propaganda materials. Six of the category titles corresponded to Spranger's Types of Men, but two additional categories were included. They consisted of 29 "physical'' or biogenic values and seven "general" values.

Clawson also brought to the attention of marketers (1950) several of Lewin's concepts which would be helpful in linking the broad construct of human values with the more specific marketing construct of buying motives. These concepts included the "achievement level," the "ideal level," and the expectation level, regarded as common to all values.

Even with the tremendous and growing impact of the behavioral sciences upon marketing in recent years, consumer values, as such, have been largely ignored by the discipline. Where they have received attention, they have been employed with almost poetic license and defined with common vernacular. As an example, in 1967, one entire section of the Proceedings of the American Marketing Association was devoted to "Value Systems in a High Level Economy" (Mayer, 1967). However, not one of the papers in this section presented a conceptual or operational definition of values, or related values to marketing theory or practice.

In the area of consumer behavior, values have usually tended to be equated with life style (Bem and Bem, 1973; Ireland and Besner, 1971; Mitchell, 1971), group norms (Kassarjian and Robertson, 1973), or social class differences (Levy, 1973). The life style association appears to be the most popular. In fact, Kelley and Lazer devote one chapter of their book, Managerial Marketing, to "Life Styles and Values" (1973). This title turns out to be somewhat of a misnomer in that little, if any, discussion pertains to values per se. Furthermore, nowhere in the chapter are the two constructs conceptually differentiated.

The recent infatuation with attitude models has also led to confusion concerning the role of values in consumer research. Borrowing freely from Rosenberg's value-expectancy conceptualization, marketing scholars have concentrated on the prediction of brand preference using product attributes instead of Rosenberg-type generalized values in their structural equations. Today, many marketing and consumer researchers mistakenly equate "values'' with evaluation of product attributes. Although a complete analysis of expectancy-value models is beyond the intended scope of this paper, excellent reviews are available (see Wilkie and Pessemier, 1973; Jacoby, 1976; Hansen, 1977).

There are numerous indications of growing interest in personal values, as distinct from product and marketing attributes, in the marketing literature. One is the "Second Washington Social Indicators Conference to Explore the Response of Business to New Values" (Marketing News, 1973). In addition, there appears to be an emerging body of research devoted to the topic. Scott and Lamont (1972) have presented evidence that global values, product evaluative and descriptive beliefs, and domain-specific values are three separate yet cognitively related variables. Henry (1976) shows significant associations between automobile ownership and personal value-orientations along the Kluckhohn-Strodtbeck lines. Extending Rokeach's paradigm, Vinson, Scott and Lamont (1977) view values as existing at two distinct levels. The first level, referred to as "global" values, contains both instrumental and terminal values. The second level deals with values which refer to desired product attributes and market place transactions and behaviors. Termed "market-specific" or "domain-specific" values, they are cognitively separate but related, and are connected to global values as well as to descriptive and evaluative beliefs.

Vinson and Munson (1976) demonstrate that values could be productively employed as segmentation variables. Vinson, Munson and Nakanishi (1977) demonstrate the validity of the Value Survey for consumer research applications. Munson uses Rokeach's terminal and instrumental values to successfully differentiate consumers of culturally diverse nationalities (1977). And Vinson suggests that differential value orientations represent an important underlying dimension of consumer discontent (1977).

Howard's new book devotes extensive space to consumer values (1977). He stresses instrumentalism (reflected in his frequent references and examples of lengthy means-end chains), and suggests that terminal values influence a person's choice criteria for a product class, his beliefs about product classes, his attitudes toward product classes, and finally his purchase of a particular product class (Ibid., p. 98). A verbal example suggests that a consumer may perceive a means-end chain as consisting of the following links: meat-protein-energy-work-effectiveness-ambition (Ibid., p. 116). Howard also cites numerous potential applications of consumer values in developing government and marketing policy decisions. However, his own stimulating analysis does not include any rigorous model of the structural elements, causes, or consequences of consumer values.


The study of consumer values shows many signs of becoming a challenging area for research in the years ahead. The most encouraging single indication is that consumer values have already been shown to have significant correlations with consumer behavior and attitudes. Given a solution to some of the present difficulties with the concept, values may prove to be one of the more powerful explanations of, and influences on, consumer behavior. They can perhaps equal or surpass the contributions of other major constructs including attitudes, product attributes, degree of deliberation, product classifications, and life styles. However, the untapped potential of consumer value analysis can be properly harnessed only if certain obstacles and problems can be removed. Our review reveals five major problems:

First of all, the concept of consumer values has not yet been clearly defined. Second, no comprehensive, nonduplicative list of values has been agreed upon by philosophers, behavioral scientists, economists, or marketers. Third, no generally accepted model is as yet available specifying the structural variables of an individual value, its latent or active interactions with other values, or its relations to other predispositions, environment, and behavior. Fourth, no standard method of measuring values has been adopted. Finally, the practical value of values has yet to be demonstrated or rejected conclusively, either in real-life settings or in laboratory settings. Insights into these applications would be needed by policy-makers in such fields as marketing, government, and other areas of planning and leadership.

Need for a Better Definition. Space permits us only to deal with the first and, in our opinion, most pressing of the five problems in value analysis. This is the problem of definition of a value. We may at least define what consumer values are, and what they are not, by indicating the major elements that such a definition should contain. These elements have been distilled from the work of many scholars and has been heavily influenced by our historical review.

(1) A consumer value is a belief. The first element of a proper definition recognizes that a value is a belief held by the consumer. It is not some objective "truth" that might have been tested and accepted by scientists, philosophers, religious leaders, economists, or other observers.

(2) A consumer value is person-centered. The requirement that human values be person-centered immediately reduces the number of eligible values. Person-centered values are those values explicitly connected in the consumer's mind with his own personal well-being or social acceptance, or with the well-being and social acceptance of other persons who are important to him. This excludes object-centered values, which are those objects, events, activities, or even people in the consumer's environment that have no explicit effect, per se, on him or on significant others. The latter include (a) specific actions or action-sequences that vary from one situation to another, such as searching, buying, storing, processing, using, or repairing; (b) specific products, services, brands, stores, advertisements; (c) a product's or service's physical and marketing at- tributes; (d) its technical performance characteristics, and (e) its uses. For example, a breakfast drink's calorie content is a nonpersonal attribute. It is an object-value but not, per se, a human value. However, the nutritional effect on people of these calories isa human value, since it is explicitly person-centered. We believe that if we wish to understand the entire range of person-centered values that motivate consumer behavior, we should start, of course, with (1) Rokeach's modes of behavior (instrumental values) and end-states of existence (terminal values), but we would need to add (2) the wide range of biological and social states omitted by Rokeach, such as life, energy, health, sex, physical senses, power, fame, property; (3) relatively complex, long-term, recurrent patterns of personal skills, ideas, objects, and activities, such as good manners, professional competence, a particular religion, a particular political party, patriotism, individualism, physical attractiveness, life style, and personal hobbies, to name a few; and finally (4) specific, short-term personal benefits that are relevant in a wide variety of situations, including time saving, economy, ease, convenience of location, and the like.

The three extra categories we have suggested may of course be intertwined with one another and with the Rokeach-type values. Indeed, they may even be derived from his values. Nevertheless, they have a definite functional autonomy of their own and are often mentioned as goals by consumers and are appealed to by many advertisers, salesmen, political leaders, and other communicators.

(3) A consumer value is perceived as having an underlying positive worth, as an end in itself, for the consumer himself or for significant others, and is organized around a subjective ideal. The subjective worth may be called utility, importance, desirability, liking, approval, loyalty, or other terms that reflect the affective, or evaluative, aspect of every consumer value. The fact that a particular value has subjective worth to a consumer may be revealed in a variety of ways. It is revealed by overt behavior, emotion felt or revealed, and verbal expressions; by vicarious participation in the experiences and emotions of others; and by subconscious or concealed responses. Each value also has a subjectively ideal state, which is preferable to any higher or lower state. For instance, the right amount of generosity is regarded as preferable to the extreme of extravagance as well as to the opposite extreme of miserliness.

(4) A value is perceived as having present or eventual usefulness. Although a value is esteemed in part for its own sake, it is also regarded by the consumer as being an instrument for serving still deeper values. Even the terminal values, says Rokeach, are the conceptual tools and weapons that people use to maintain and enhance their self-esteem (Rokeach, 1973, p. 14), which McDougall called the master sentiment of self-regard (Ibid., p. 14) and Maslow called self-actualization (Ibid., p. 16, Maslow; 1959, p. 123). Even the self-concept would be useful as a criterion for evaluating other values, attitudes, and activities.

(5) A value is enduring. A value is neither completely stable nor completely unstable. If it were the former, it would be impossible for individual and social changes to take place; if the latter, neither personality nor society would have any continuity (Rokeach, 1973, pp. 5-6). While values remain relatively stable, the needs and behavior derived from them can fluctuate widely. To illustrate, a high subjective worth placed on physical comfort is a relatively enduring value, and is not inconsistent with varying intensity of headaches, nor with purchasing aspirins on some days and not others. Researchers will need to take precautions to measure the relatively permanent, underlying esteem of values, undistorted by transitory needs, surpluses, threats, or inducements.

(6) A consumer value is widely held by many but not all members of a sub-culture, society, nation, or civilization. This element tends to eliminate rare hobbies and personal attachments of isolated individuals from possible classification as consumer values. However, unanimity is not required. An opposite or compromise position on any value may be adopted by a minority within any group being studied, sometimes with, sometimes without the tolerance of the majority. This recognizes the coexistence of rival ideologies, opposing political parties, criminal elements, moral deviates, terrorists, and others with nonconforming life styles within any social grouping. It does not preclude warfare among factions and nations, based partly on differential value systems and partly on differential degrees of deprivation.

(7) A major role of a consumer's value is that of standard'' or "criterion" he can use in the formulation of attitudes and guidance of behavior. This element is not essential for a "descriptive" definition of values, or what values are. It is of transcendent significance for a functional definition -- what values do. This meaning of value-as-criterion treats values as indirect determinants of all attitudes and actions, whether to adjust to one's physical and social environment, enhance and defend his self-esteem and social conscience, or improve knowledge and growth. It means that attitude objects that perform only limited service as criteria for conflict resolution and decision-making, or that affect only a narrow domain of life situations, would not be defined as values.

(8) A value is derived from, and modified through, personal, social, and cultural learning. Whereas the seventh element emphasized the consequences of a value, the final element underscores the antecedents of a value. It indicates how values originate and change. Being learned early in life, values are historically primitive, probably harder to change than the more specific attitudes and behavior patterns that are derived from them, and are a major source of stability both for the individual and society. However, once they are shifted themselves or severely deprived, they can also be sources of major upheavals. Values thus possess an extremely high degree of centrality in a person's life.

To summarize, any object of interest to a consumer may fall within the definition of a consumer value provided it meets the criteria mentioned above. It can involve any generalized person-centered end-state of existence, mode of behavior, pattern of ideas, grouping of people, biological condition, or direct benefit that is highly esteemed by the consumer himself, or perceived to be esteemed by others who are important to him. It is used by him as a criterion for evaluating a wide variety of other values, objects, activities, and people. It is an enduring type of belief, widely held by the consumer and by many but not all other members of his subculture or society. It is acquired and modified through personal, social, and cultural learning starting early in life, and plays a central role in his decision-making.


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C. Joseph Clawson, University of Southern California
Donald E. Vinson, University of Southern California


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05 | 1978

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