Don’t Mind the Gap Between Values and Action

January 2011
Briefing paper by Professor Greg Maio, Head of Department of Psychology, University of Bath

At the time of writing this briefing, Greg Maio was a Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University, but he has since moved to the University of Bath, where he is head of the Department of Psychology. Greg specialises in studying the psychological processes that help people to bridge values and actions. In this briefing he explores what’s known as the ‘value-action gap’ – the seeming difference between the ways that people act and the values they claim to hold – and explains how it might not be as much of a ‘gap’ as it appears.

this if...

  • You’re interested in the evidence that values influence behaviour, while aware that we don’t always act in line with the values that we prioritise.
  • You work on behaviour change campaigns or communications.

Key Takeaways

  1. People are influenced by their values, but they don’t always act in ways that are in line with the values they claim to place priority on. For example, someone may care deeply for the environment, yet still eat meat or dairy, or fly off on holiday; we may care deeply about racism yet prefer not to join an anti-racism demonstration. This is sometimes called the values-action gap.
  2. Social psychologists have studied this disparity between the values that we prioritise and the actions we take. They find that while a person’s values are a poor predictor of a specific behaviour, as researchers begin to aggregate across multiple environmentally- or socially-relevant behaviours, the values-action gap begins to close, such that a person’s values are likely to be the most important predictor of their overall environmentally- or socially-relevant behavioural choices.

Other resources
you might like

The Common Cause Handbook

Governments Can Change People’s Values: A Briefing on Policy Feedback

Limitations of environmental campaigning based on values for money, image and status

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