Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Content-Based Approach in Exploring the Cognitive Structure of Values

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Content-Based Approach in Exploring the Cognitive Structure of Values

Article excerpt


This article discusses the content-based approach in examination of values. In the content-based approach, human thinking in different contexts is set at the focal point, and attention is devoted to those cognitive processes through which mental representations are constructed. The information contents of mental representations play a decisive role in understanding human behavior. By applying content-based analysis to an examination of the conceptual contents of human values, it is possible to reach a deeper understanding of the cognitive structure which lies as the motivational foundation of actions. In this article, it is argued that different informational contents of values explain variance actualized in behaviors. A suggestion for a model of cognitive structure of values is presented. The model illustrates different information contents related to particular object.

Keywords: content-based approach, mental content, mental representations, values

1. Introduction

Value research covers a wide spectrum of analyses executed within a variety of disciplines related to the study of human values. From classical Greece to contemporary social science, the integrative conviction within this research tradition is based on the recognition that values matter. Despite the use of the term in a variety of literature, very little consensus exists on what constitutes a value (e.g., Kluckhohn, 1951/1954; Rokeach, 1968, 1973, 1979; Payne, 1980; Kilmann, 1981; Wiener, 1988; Borg, 1990). Values have been attached to beliefs (Rokeach, 1968, 1973), needs (Super, 1973), criteria for choosing goals (Locke, 1976), goals (Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987), and attitudes (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Despite the unquestionable success of value theories and studies in revealing the functions, meanings, and construction of human values, relevant problems may be related to the conceptual construction of such values, which do not open in a natural manner to the traditional value theory languages. Therefore, in this article, the content-based reference frame is suggested as an alternative approach to the examination of values, and as a complementary paradigm to contribute to structuring a more solid conceptual foundation for value research. The content-based approach (Saariluoma, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003a) was developed for investigating human thinking. The emphasis is on the mentality of experiencing and explaining human behavior in terms of information content of mental representations and processes involved in constructing these representations. Thus, in content-based research, the information contents of mental representations form the explanatory basis for exploration. In this article, the focus is on the concept of value, which is discussed in terms of mental representation.

Since Schwartz's (1992) circular model of values was published in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology nearly 20 years ago, the understanding of the values and their functioning has significantly grown. Studies of diverse processes related to values have indicated that the model actually reflects accurately peoples' mental representations of values. The model predicts patterns in the accessibility of values from memory, the effects of value priming on behavior, feelings of ambivalence toward others, and patterns of value changes. Together, these kinds of findings indicate that mental representations of values include an aspect wherein values are interconnected via the motivational objectives that values denote. Processing of a specific focal value is related to other values operating in the background. However, there are differences in mental representations between individuals. Mental representations are constructed on the basis of different types of stimuli, but also by previous personal conceptual knowledge (e.g., Saariluoma, 2002). When the objective is to understand conceptual structures of values, the contents of mental representations must be analyzed by paying attention to different types of conceptual content. …

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