Mental representations of social values

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Many well-known psychological theories on diverse processes (e.g., moral and political judgment, prejudice, the self) ascribe vital roles to social values, but define values vaguely. The psychological functioning of values can be clarified by conceptualizing them as mental representations that operate at a system level, (abstract) value level, and an instantiation level. At the system level, values reflect motivational tensions described within Schwartz's [Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 1–65] circular model of values. These tensions are evident in correlations between values, the accessibility of values from memory, judgments of value coargumentation in rhetoric, feelings of ambivalence toward others, effects of value priming on behavior, and patterns of value change. At the value level, values are more strongly connected to feelings than to past behavior or beliefs, and the types of emotion depend on the values' roles as ideal versus ought self-guides. At the instantiation level, contemplation of concrete, typical instantiations of a value increase value-affirming behavior by affecting perceptual readiness to detect and apply the value. All three levels of representation are crucial for addressing key puzzles in the role of values in social psychological processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-43
Number of pages43
JournalAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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