Recent findings of low societal consensus in cultural values suggest that our field’s dominant paradigm — culture as shared values — is a fallacy. The perennial persistence of this illusion may come from the fact that it appeals to the human brain’s hardwired capacity for essentialism. Evidence against value consensus, however, does not doom all shared-meaning models of culture (pace Schwartz, 2013). I describe evidence for other kinds of mental representations (i.e., concepts, beliefs, norms) that are shared (in the sense of consensus, contagion, or conjoint control) and underlie culturally patterned behavior. Also I consider and probe Schwartz’s (2013) proposed definition of culture as a society-level value system, raising questions about its ontology, functionalism and explanatory power, particularly with regard to understanding cultural change. While acknowledging the utility of aggregated value scores for many research programs, I conclude that psychology needs to study individual-level cultural representations and within-society variation in order to understand the dynamics of cultural influence and change.

Journal Article
Publication Date
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology

Full Citation

. “Values as the essence of culture: Foundation or fallacy?”
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
, (January 01, 2014):