Development Of Values Research Paper

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Values are patterns of regulation accepted as desirable by persons in a given culture or family environment and serve as guiding principles in their lives. Research on value development often centers around the concept of internalization which attempts to explain how values assumed to be initially external to an individual, become incorporated into the individual’s thoughts and actions. This research paper describes four perspectives that guide current research on the development of values and three new research directions. Early research on value development was guided by psychoanalytic and social learning theories and did not distinguish among types of values (Grusec 1997).

Social learning studies, for instance, focused on single values such as obedience or altruism without considering connections or differences between types of values. This content-free approach to values implicitly assumed that the development of any values could be understood by very general learning or identification processes. There has been an increasing trend to study classifications of two or more values because it is thought that developmental, regulatory, and socialization processes differ depending on the content of a value. Distinctions have been made between individualistic vs. collectivistic values (Grolnick et al. 1997), the short-term (immediate compliance in parents’ presence) vs. long-term nature (enduring compliance in parent’s absence) of the parent’s socialization goal (Kuczynski 1984), and the personal, conventional, moral, or prudential domain of the value (Smetana 1997). A comprehensive category system includes 10 values: stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, conformity, tradition, security, power, achievement, and hedonism (Schwartz 1992). These 10 values represent an integrated system that predicts how individual values may be compatible with and conflict with other values in the system. Such research on the content of values suggests that theories of value development will be contextualized increasingly in the future.

1. Four Theoretical Perspectives

Socialization perspectives emphasize the unidirectional transmission of values from an older generation to a younger generation. Older models are based on psychoanalytic (Hoffman 1970) and social learning (Bandura and Walters 1963) theories and generally are limited to an analysis of dyadic parent–child interactions. In general, this approach focused on the products of value socialization to the relative neglect of the process of value socialization. The focus on parents has been on pre-existing parental behaviors, traits, and styles that are conceptualized as antecedents of children’s socialization. The focus on children has been on outcomes conceptualized as passive conformity with socialization pressures or internalization of values. Such models have been much criticized by psychologists and sociologists because of their static, homogenious assumptions concerning the nature of society, and the passive and overly conforming view of parents to the previous generation and of children to their parents (Wrong 1961). More recent socialization perspectives (Grusec and Goodnow 1994) retain a focus on the parental role in socialization, but incorporate an interest in how parents accommodate to child characteristics, abilities, and motives in designing flexible strategies for transmitting values to children.

The cognitive developmental perspectives of Piaget and Kohlberg represented early challenges to the socialization perspective. These theories emphasized children’s cognitive construction of values and children’s sequenced development of their capacity for moral judgement. The parent’s authoritative role in teaching values was de-emphasized and a greater focus was placed on the superiority of egalitarian peer relations in promoting moral development. More recent social domain theory (Smetana 1997) balances an interest in the child’s activity in constructing values in different environmental contexts with an interest in how parents, among others, provide contextually nuanced, affective, and cognitive material from which children can construct their understanding of value systems in their social environments.

Early socialization theories acknowledged the importance of a positive parent–child relationship context in such constructs as parental warmth and nurturance that were considered to enhance the effectiveness of a parent’s socialization techniques. In recent relational perspectives, the long-term parent–child relationship moves to the foreground as a primary source of parental influence. Maccoby and Martin’s (1983) review of the research on parent–child interaction presaged many elements of a relational perspective on socialization. In contrast to earlier perspectives that emphasized parental discipline strategies they traced the origins of socialization to the beginnings of relationship formation during the first year of life. Research supporting the relational origins of children’s co-operation include correlations with measures of maternal sensitivity during feeding, secure attachment, and measures of reciprocal parent–child responsiveness during play (Kuczynski and Hildebrandt 1997). The relational perspectives emphasize that far from having to be coerced into accepting parental values, children share a common relationship history with their caretakers that leads them to be receptive to parental influence and to adopt similar social goals.

Bilateral and coconstructionist perspectives are emerging integrative frameworks that incorporate concepts of bidirectional causality, agency of parent and child, and a changing cultural context into a comprehensive understanding of the process of value development (Kuczynski et al. 1997, Lawrence and Valsiner 1993). As with most new theories, these perspectives emphasize that values are actively constructed, or interpreted, by the child from the parental and cultural environment rather than transmitted passively unchanged from one generation to the other. What is distinctive is their explicit interest in the process of bidirectional socialization. For example, the bilateral model of parent–child relations (Kuczynski et al. 1999) focuses on relatively unexplored arenas of parent–child relations such as the constructions and strategic actions of both parents and children, power transactions, and relationship dynamics. These models also add complexity to the parental side of value development. They propose that the values that parents initially bring into the child rearing context also undergo change as the result of self-reflection, exposure to different and changing values outside the family, and the continual opportunities for problem solving and challenges that parents experience from their children during the lengthy process of childrearing.

2. New Research Directions

Older socialization perspectives focused on a small set of parental socialization strategies (modeling, punishment, reward, and reasoning). A generalization from this literature was that parents who had a warm relationship with their children, who were firm but not overly restrictive, and who used reasoning and persuasion more than power assertion are the most effective in enabling their children’s internalization of values. Critiques of this literature are that it ignores impact of culture, and of a multitude of child characteristics (temperament, age, mood) on parental actions. It also is not consistent with findings that parents use different methods and adopt different goals depending on the varying demands of situations (Grusec and Goodnow 1994). Newer approaches that maintain a focus on socialization strategies of parents include an interest in parental flexible and responsive use of strategies and on an expanded range of socialization strategies. These are strategies that accommodate the agency of the child, attend to the construction, maintenance and repair of the relationship context of parenting interventions, and strategies that prevent or modify the impact of societal influences on children’s socialization. There is a growing interest in the impact of unconscious, unplanned processes in the development of values (Bugental and Goodnow 1998). These include cultural practices in which values are learned in the doing of everyday routines and interactions. These practices are difficult to resist because they are taken for granted as ‘the way things are’ and are rarely open for examination or challenge. A second arena concerns the automatic processing of interactions where, for example, a parent’s behavior during parent–child conflict occurs in a script-like, reactive manner, such as in mutually coercive interactions (Patterson 1997). When considered in the context of the conscious processes, a new question emerges: what aspects of value socialization develop from conscious vs. unconscious socialization processes? It is possible, for instance, that some cultural and familial values have nothing to do with specific parenting practices but are transmitted passively from parent to child as a consequence of everyday immersion in cultural practices. Other values may be inculcated by the deliberate activity of socializing agents. Conscious socialization might occur especially when parental values are not unambiguously supported by the surrounding culture or when parents deliberately prepare their children for a social context that differs substantially from the circumstances of their own socialization. Parents may also cycle through ‘automatic’ vs. conscious interactive processes during daily interchanges with their children (Kuczynski 1984). For example, parents may use unsophisticated power assertive strategies, such as unexplained commands and prohibitions during routine interactions when no more than a loose immediate control of a child’s behavior is required. At other times, parents may shift to a more deliberate style of interacting, planning their communications or using effortful reasoning strategies, when the situation has implications for the child’s long-term well being or invokes a strongly held parental value.

Most contemporary theories emphasize active, constructive processes of parents and children in value socialization and internalization. However, research is just beginning to describe these processes empirically. Research is needed on parental constructive processes concerning their own values. For instance, how do parents think about their socialization experiences and how do they select which values to pass on, abandon, or modify when they come to socialize their own children? Research is also required on children’s perspectives on their parent’s socialization efforts. How do children interpret, resist, and negotiate parental messages? Lastly, the phenomenon of bidirectional influence needs to be better understood. This is because the processes underlying children’s receptivity and resistance to parental influence and of parental receptivity and vulnerability to children’s influence are still largely unexplored.


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