Which intrinsic values set different demographic groups apart? Check out our study results.
Updated: Feb 16
How do the self-reported intrinsic values of men differ from those of women, older people's from younger people's, and liberals from conservatives? Which values are most characteristic of each of these groups? We attempted to answer this question with a recent study, with some fascinating results.
Performed and analyzed by ClearerThinking.org founder Spencer Greenberg, our study was designed to identify people’s “intrinsic values” — that is, ideas or states that people consider valuable as ends in themselves, rather than merely for their usefulness in reaching some other benefit. (For instance, hammers are not something people intrinsically value since all of their value derives from their usefulness in accomplishing other goals, whereas you might consider your own happiness an intrinsic value if you value it for its own sake.) Put another way, an intrinsic value is something you would still value even if you got absolutely nothing else from it. Sometimes intrinsic values are referred to as "terminal values", while non-intrinsic values are called "instrumental values".
You can try the original, exploratory study yourself by clicking here.
You can try the final program we built based on this study by clicking here.
In particular, the study was designed to identify which intrinsic values are most characteristic of each broad demographic category it examined, while controlling for other demographic variables. That means its results highlight which values were most associated with each of these demographic groups compared to non-members of that group, rather than the values that each group was most likely to hold in absolute terms.
Here's an illustrative example: one very popular intrinsic value in the study was "That I myself feel happy," with 77% of respondents reporting that they value it intrinsically. This value was common across the demographic spectrum, but it doesn't appear in the top 7 most predictive demographic values for ANY demographic group. That's because it's not particularly unique to any demographic — it's not dramatically more common among the young than among the old, for instance, or dramatically more common among liberals than conservatives, and so forth. As you read the results, bear in mind that the most predictive intrinsic values for a given demographic group may not be the most popular or widespread values for that group.
Important caveat: it’s very hard to accurately evaluate your own intrinsic values, and the idea of intrinsic value itself is confusing to many people. So it's reasonable to expect that our measurements of self-rated intrinsic values are only correlated with whether someone actually believes the item in question is intrinsically valuable. They are not a definitive measure of people's intrinsic values by any means.
Here are the strongest effects we saw associated with each of four variables: political right/left affiliation (i.e. conservatism/liberalism), age, self-identified gender, and to what extent they identify as an Effective Altruist (referring to the Effective Altruism community, which you can learn more about by using this ClearerThinking mini-course on how you can more effectively improve the world.) You can interpret these values as those that most differentiate each group from non-members of that group when controlling for the other three variables, NOT necessarily what that group cares about most in absolute terms. So for instance, you can think of these results as answering the question "What intrinsic values most differentiate conservatives from liberals who are of the same gender/age/effective altruism level?", but NOT the question "What do conservatives most care about?"
— CONSERVATIVE / LIBERAL —
Intrinsic values most associated with being right wing / conservative: 1. That god is pleased with me 2. That humanity worships god 3. That those who do bad things are punished 4. That people are religious 5. That humanity is not replaced by another, more intelligent life form 6. That my values do not change to something different than they are right now 7. That I have children
Intrinsic values most associated with being left wing / progressive / liberal: 1. That animals (non-humans) feel happy 2. That animals (non-humans) suffer less than they do normally 3. That nature is protected from damage by humans 4. That people I don't know feel happy 5. That the world is a fair place 6. That there are lots of different kinds of humans 7. That animals (non-humans) experience more pleasure than they do normally
— FEMALE / MALE —
Intrinsic values most associated with being a self-identified female: 1. That humans are kind to each other 2. That there are lots of different kinds of humans 3. That humans have the freedom to pursue what they choose to pursue 4. That I get to experience a wide variety of different things during my life 5. That I continue to care about other people 6. That I love other people 7. That not all humans have the same experiences as each other
Intrinsic values most associated with being a self-identified male: 1. That I myself experience more pleasure than I do normally 2. That I myself am able to get the things that I want 3. That the people I know *personally* are able to get the things that they want 4. That the people I know *personally* experience more pleasure than they do normally 5. That people I don't know experience more pleasure than they do normally 6. That animals (non-humans) feel happy 7. That those who do bad things are punished
— OLDER / YOUNGER —
Intrinsic values most associated with being older: 1. That other people continue to care about me 2. That humanity becomes more moral than it is right now 3. That people trust me 4. That I avoid saying things that are false 5. That the world is a fair place 6. That I believe true things rather than false things 7. That the nature of what humans are is not one day radically altered by advanced technology
Intrinsic values most associated with being younger: 1. That the animals that are currently alive live longer than they normally would 2. That I am admired by other people 3. That the people I know *personally* experience more pleasure than they do normally 4. That people I don't know are able to get the things that they want 5. That I myself am able to get the things that I want 6. That I myself suffer less than I do normally 7. That I myself experience more pleasure than I do normally
— EFFECTIVE ALTRUISTS / NON-EFFECTIVE ALTRUISTS —
Note: whether someone is or is not an Effective Altruist — referring to whether they identify with the term coined by the Effective Altruist community — was determined via self-report by asking if they had heard of that phrase before on more than one occasion, and if they said yes, then asking if they fully identify as one (effectiveAltruist=1, n=81), partially identify as one (effectiveAltruist=0.5, n=66) or don’t identify as one (effectiveAltruist=0, n=68).
Intrinsic values most associated with self-identifying as an Effective Altruist: 1. That people I don't know experience more pleasure than they do normally 2. That animals (non-humans) experience more pleasure than they do normally 3. That people I don't know suffer less than they do normally 4. That people I don't know feel happy 5. That animals (non-humans) suffer less than they do normally 6. That the people I know *personally* suffer less than they do normally 7. That the people I know *personally* experience more pleasure than they do normally
Intrinsic values most associated with NOT self-identifying as an Effective Altruist: 1. That I love other people 2. That I continue to care about other people 3. That god is pleased with me 4. That nature is protected from damage by humans 5. That beautiful things continue to exist 6. That people trust me 7. That other people love me
In the study, we examined 60 different potential intrinsic values; participants rated each trait as falling into one of the following categories:
(A) something they don’t value; (B) something they value, but not intrinsically; or (c) something that they value intrinsically (that is, they would still value it even if they derived no other benefits from it).
Using this data, we examined how people’s intrinsic values differ based on the four demographic factors we mentioned above: political right/left affiliation, age, self-identified gender, and to what extent they identify as an Effective Altruist.
We carried out this analysis by performing a linear regression on the 215 participants that remained after we removed participants who seemed to have difficulty with the concept of "intrinsic value." (Participants received a brief introduction to intrinsic values at the beginning of the study, and were removed from the results unless they correctly answered at least 2 out of 3 questions on an intrinsic values quiz and were able to articulate a definition of intrinsic value that seemed compatible with the definition specified by the study.) This process led us to remove approximately 30% of the data overall, and a higher proportion among non-Effective Altruists than among Effective Altruists (who may already be more aware of the concept of "intrinsic value").
We performed such a regression for each of the 60 potential intrinsic values, attempting to predict whether each user views each item as an intrinsic value using the four previously mentioned demographic factors as independent variables in the regression (after normalizing those four variables to have a mean of 0 and standard deviation of 1, so as to make the regression coefficients comparable). We then used the regression coefficients to see how strongly each of the four variables is associated with belief that each value is intrinsic.
Participants in this study came from three sources: Mechanical Turk (U.S, only, run via our recruitment platform Positly), a post on Spencer's personal Facebook wall, and a post on the Effective Altruism Facebook group.
You can view the final detailed analyses in the spreadsheet here, as well as all the cleaned/anonymized data (with data from those who seemed to not understand intrinsic values removed). You can preview the study exactly as participants saw it here (without participating).