Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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What is Right? What is Wrong? and Does the Answer Tell Something about Culture? - an Investigation into Culture and Morality Using the Values Concept

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posted on 2021-11-10, 02:25 authored by Vauclair, Christin-Melanie

Morality, or what is considered right or wrong, varies seemingly across cultures. However, the literature shows that moral psychologists have mainly investigated moral reasoning assuming a universal morality. Cross-cultural psychologists in contrast have widely neglected moral issues such as prescriptive beliefs of what people ought to do in a culture, and have predominantly measured culture through personal values. This thesis attempts to bridge this gap by focusing on the values concept. Four empirical studies were conducted to critically examine values as a measure of culture and their relationship to morality. Chapter one is an introduction into the topics morality, culture and values. Chapter two outlines the conceptual and methodological issues associated with deriving cultural values through the statistical aggregation of individuals' personal values. A value taxonomy is presented in which personal moral values and societal moral values are proposed as alternatives for measuring the cultural context. Following this critique, personal values are examined in two empirical studies in a cross-cultural context scrutinizing the validity of Schwartz' (1994) Culture-level Value Theory. Study 1 is a cross-cultural meta-analysis using the Rokeach Value Survey (Rokeach, 1973) showing that Schwartz' culture-level value structure was replicable with different samples, and a different method for assessing value priorities. Nonetheless, a set of values not included in Schwartz' analysis formed a new value type: Self-fulfilled Connectedness (SFC) which is related to the pursuit of non-material goals and endorsed in countries in which basic needs are fulfilled. Study 2 tested in a multilevel regression model whether Schwartz' cultural values predicted individuals' moral attitudes with data from more than 40 different countries. The findings indicated that the value dimension Autonomy-Embeddedness explained individuals' lenient attitude towards personal-sexual, but not towards dishonest-illegal issues. Study 3 dealt with the fundamental critique raised in chapter two that Schwartz (1994) does not operationalize micro- and macro-level constructs independently when measuring cultural values. To address this empirically, personal moral values and societal moral values were explicitly measured in student samples from eight cultures. Societal moral values showed greater cross-cultural differences than personal moral values. Furthermore, societal moral values at the culture-level conceptually replicated the multilevel findings from Study 2. This suggests that societal moral values are a valid macro-level variable for the measurement of culture. Finally, Study 4 was conducted to elicit implicit moral values. Respondents from four cultures free-listed their associations of a 'moral person'. correspondence analyses revealed that collectivistic-oriented samples mentioned more traditional moral attributes, whereas individualistic samples reported more liberal attributes. Furthermore, accessibility of implicit moral values - matched with the SVS - correlated with explicit ratings of personal moral values from Study 3, providing convergent validity for this kind of values. This multi-method finding corroborated that personal moral values and societal moral values are different concepts. In sum, these studies support the validity of Schwartz' theory and suggest that notions of right and wrong do indeed tell us something about culture, but it depends on (1) the issues studied (personal-sexual issues), and (2) the kind of values measured (societal moral values).


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Wilson, Marc; Fischer, Ronald