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The Mental Representation of Social Values: From System to Instantiation

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We often claim to attach high amounts of importance to diverse abstract ideals, such as freedom, equality, and the environment. At the same time, our behaviour occasionally seems to mismatch the values we claim to hold. This ostensible value-action gap may be partly due to the way in which values can be mentally represented. Values can be encoded (1) in relation to each other, (2) as single abstract entities, and (3) as concrete instantiations. Each level of mental representation conveys a different perspective on the potential antecedents and consequences of values. This presentation will demonstrate the utility of this theoretical perspective through a series of simple experiments that describe how the effects of values depend on (a) their place in a system of values and (b) their recent concrete instantiations. These experiments show how an understanding of the cognitive representations of values helps to predict their effects on a variety of behaviours, such as cleanliness, discrimination, and protection of the environment.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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