Revisiting the trans-situationality of values in Schwartz’s Portrait Values Questionnaire


Schwartz in his famous theory of basic values follows Parsons and Rokeach in arguing that human values are trans-situational or context free. For any individual, the same personal value priorities exist across different life contexts such as the workplace, the school or the home. This assumption influenced the design of Schwartz’s Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ), which is widely used in the measurement of values. There is a tendency in the literature on values measurement to take this assumption for granted, but some cross-cultural research questions it. In our quest to improve validity and reliability in the measurement of values we used a quasi-experimental two-wave panel study to test Schwartz’s assumption, in the design of his PVQ, that values are trans-situational. Data was collected from sociology classes at two universities: one in Austria (n = 52) and the other in South Africa (n = 61). In the first wave the respondents completed Schwartz’s context-free version of the PVQ, and thereafter they completed a second PVQ with their family/home context in mind. In the second wave, 2 weeks later, the respondents completed the PVQ with the university context in mind. We used various statistical methods in our analysis of the data including a modified Cronbach’s alpha, the Student t test, Wilcoxon signed-rank test, Stouffer’s z test and multi-dimensional scaling. Our overall findings support a scenario where respondents have a universal set of values, but the way they prioritise their personal values is somewhat influenced by the value priorities associated with the life context they are thinking about.

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Fig. 1

Source Schwartz (2012, p. 9) (we use the most recent version of Schwartz’s model, which is marginally different to the model published in 1992. Schwartz has granted us permission to reproduce this diagram)

Fig. 2
Fig. 3
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Fig. 5
Fig. 6


  1. 1.

    A substantial difference was assumed if the absolute difference in the means was equal or larger than 0.4.

  2. 2.

    In order to measure the similarity of patterns we used the shape-distance formula: \(d(x,y;\,{\text{Edwards/Cavalli{-}Sforza}}) = \sqrt {2 - 2\cos (x,y)}\) (Edwards and Cavalli-Sforza 1964 in Sodeur 1974, p. 92). Only the shape, not the size, was included in the calculation.


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Correspondence to Jacques de Wet.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest with respect to the research, authorship or publication of this article.

Ethics approval

Ethics approval for the study referred to in this paper was granted by the Humanities Faculty Ethics Committee at the University of Cape Town.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from each respondent who participated in the study.


Appendix 1: Schwartz’s PVQ items and values

See Table 8.

Table 8 Schwartz’s PVQ items and values (Female Version) (Schwartz 2009)

Appendix 2: Pairwise differences in the means of the 3 versions of the PVQ for Austria and South Africa

See Tables 9, 10, 11 and 12.

Table 9 Mean differences for Austria using the t test for dependent samples
Table 10 Mean differences for South Africa using the t test for dependent samples
Table 11 Mean differences for Austria using Wilcoxon signed-rank test
Table 12 Mean differences for South Africa using Wilcoxon signed-rank test

Appendix 3: SPSS-syntax

SPSS-syntax for computing Cronbach’s alpha


SPSS-syntax for parallel analysis


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de Wet, J., Wetzelhütter, D. & Bacher, J. Revisiting the trans-situationality of values in Schwartz’s Portrait Values Questionnaire. Qual Quant 53, 685–711 (2019).

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  • Schwartz’s Portrait Values Questionnaire
  • Trans-situationality of values
  • Quasi-experiment
  • Measurement error