Interview Meeting Shalom Schwartz

Shalom Schwartz is the psychologist behind the values model that inspires Common Cause, a values-led approach to social change. This summer, I met him at his home in New York.

We talked about the connection between values and behaviour, some of the strangest applications of his theory and, of course, the values that matter to him most: read the interview in The Psychologist.

Here’s an extract:

He remembers feeling doubt about [Milton Rokeach’s] methods of changing behaviours through values: ‘I was very sceptical about it, but it stayed with me.’

He shakes his head, laughing, and addresses himself in the second person: ‘Really, why are you so interested in this?!’

I suggest that part of the draw is that values matter: they matter in the sense that they help us understand and change behaviour.

But Schwartz seems curiously on the fence about this. ‘I still tend to be sceptical about relations between values and behaviour. I think they exist, and I’ve built a lot of my work on that assumption. In fact, I never would have gone into the field if I didn’t think there was a relationship to behaviour.’

But? There’s clearly a ‘but’. For one, he says: values do not mean the same thing to everyone. People can associate different behaviours with the same value.

So even if two people can agree that justice is important, they might not apply this value to behaviour in the same way. They might not have the same ‘instantiation’ of justice. Instantiations can also vary across culture. Greg Maio, Head of Psychology at Bath University, gives the example of family security, which is universally valued but will give rise to different behaviours for people in Brazil compared with people in the UK.

Schwartz seems hopeful about this avenue of research. ‘Greg Maio has a very important argument when he says the instantiations are critical, and when you change people’s instantiations you can anchor change in values.’

Read the full interview here.



Shalom Schwartz and Bec Sanderson have both authored chapters in the recently published Values and Behavior: Taking a Cross-Cultural Perspective, Roccas, S. & Sagiv, L. (Eds.), available from Springer.

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