Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Values

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"Evidence from social psychology highlights the importance of cultural values in shaping our collective responses to challenges such as these. “Extrinsic” values (those preoccupied with image, social status, and financial success) are associated with lower levels of concern about such problems and lower commitment to addressing them.

Many factors strengthen extrinsic values, yet these are often overlooked in the campaign activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Indeed, many NGO campaigns may themselves inadvertently contribute to strengthening extrinsic values.

“Intrinsic” values (including closeness to friends and family and commitment to the wider community) are associated with behavior that helps to tackle a wide range of social and environmental challenges. Giving careful thought to NGO campaigns and communications, and understanding the influence that business activities and government policies exert on cultural values, can help to strengthen intrinsic values.

This raises the possibility of a wide spectrum of actors—engaged in a range of social and environmental challenges—beginning to work in a more concerted way. This in turn can ensure that—while campaigning for their specific issues—NGOs will also be pursuing their shared interest in working to help strengthen intrinsic values."

Key Concepts:

  • Certain cultural values motivate people to express concern about a range of social and environmental problems, and such values are associated with action to tackle these problems.
  • These “intrinsic” values act in opposition to “extrinsic” values. Particular values are likely to be strengthened through many aspects of our daily experience, including the media we consume, the advertisements we see, and the public policies we experience.
  • In the course of focusing narrowly on particular issues, NGOs may at times work inadvertently to strengthen extrinsic values—even as they achieve progress on specific issues.
  • A more concerted approach to tackling social and environmental challenges is needed—one that responds to an understanding of values, the connection between values and behavior, and the way in which some values are strengthened culturally."


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