Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Values

Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Values: Gordon Willard AllportFor decades after its initial development in 1931, the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Values (SOV) had a substantial impact on psychological practice and research. In terms of the metric of citation count, by 1970, the SOV was the third most popular nonprojective personality measure, after the Minnesota Mulitphasic Personality Instrument (MMPI) and the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS). Designed primarily for use with upper-level high school students, college students, and adults, it become popular because it reflected a number of positive features, the most important being its multiplicity of applications. First, the SOV provided a vivid classroom demonstration pertinent to courses in psychology, social psychology, personality, organizational behavior, and education. In this regard, the 1970 test manual noted that students are always interested in their own scores and enjoy a discussion of the results. Second, the SOV was widely used in vocational and educational guidance (and even in marriage counseling). Third, it was integral to hundreds of research projects, such as those concerning group differences, changes in individual values over time (e.g., before and after divinity school training), and ascertaining patterns of value agreement among friends and family members.

By the late 1980s, though, the SOV was no longer in print. The reasons for the extraordinary 50-year popularity of the SOV and its subsequent fall into psychological oblivion are discussed below, after a brief description of the instrument itself, two illustrations of its practical utility, and past reviewers’ evaluations.

Based on the seminal work of Eduard Spranger, the SOV identifies six value orientations, which, briefly, are as follows:

  • Theoretical (the discovery of truth: empiricism, intellectualism)
  • Economic (that which is useful: resourceful, practical affairs)
  • Aesthetic (form and harmony: grace, artistry in life)
  • Social (love of people: altruism, sympathy, caring)
  • Political (power in all realms: influence, leadership)
  • Religious (unity of life: comprehension of life’s meaning, holiness)

Each individual receives a total score of 240 points, based on answers to questions describing a number of familiar situations, for instance, “If you had some time to spend in a waiting room and there were only two magazines to choose from, would you prefer (a) Scientific Age or (b) Arts and Decorations?” Consequently, the SOV measures the relative strength of each value orientation. The theoretical average for each value is 40 (240 points apportioned among six values), but individual profiles often demonstrate unique value patterns. Note that the SOV ascertains values indirectly through realistic behavioral scenarios; in contrast, two currently used values measures (Milton Rokeach’s Value Survey and Shalom Schwartz’s Value Scale) require respondents to directly rank and rate values, respectively—assuming that individuals can access and consciously process this information and report it accurately. More specifically, the Rokeach scale requires respondents to rank order two sets of 18 relatively abstract values (e.g., freedom, loyalty, courage), and the Schwartz instrument requires the rating of 52 broad values (e.g., wisdom, inner harmony, unity with nature).

Pertinent to the psychometric adequacy of the SOV, internal consistency estimates for each value have ranged from .84 to .95, and averaged .90 (after Spearman-Brown prophecy adjustment). Indicative of the SOV’s substantive validity, early normative data collected from more than 8,000 students were very consistent with a priori expectations. For 500 engineering students, the mean Theoretical value was 48; for 7,100 medical students, the mean Theoretical value was 50; among 800 business students, the mean Economic value was 46; among 400 art and design students, the mean Aesthetic value was 57; and among 100 divinity students, the mean Religious value was 55. The popularity of the SOV can be attributed in part to its solid psychometric properties. Further reflecting its demonstrated construct validity, scores on the SOV have been reliably related to types of professional education, occupational choice, and such vocationally relevant outcomes as job satisfaction and, to a lesser extent, job performance.

An interesting book-length study by Abraham Zaleznik, Gene Dalton, and Louis Barnes examined the careers of 174 scientists/engineers and engineering managers in a high-technology company. The organization employed a dual-track system of advancement, such that individuals could choose to stay on the technical (scientist/engineer) track or elect for a managerial progression. Scientists with higher Theoretical than Economic scores on the SOV and managers with higher Economic than Theoretical scores were deemed “oriented.” In contrast, scientists with higher Economic than Theoretical scores and managers with higher Theoretical than Economic scores were deemed “conflicted.” As hypothesized, job satisfaction, organizational satisfaction, career satisfaction, and (to a lesser extent) rated job performance levels were higher among the “oriented” than the “conflicted” employees. In addition, conflicted employees reported a greater incidence of fatigue at work.

Vocational and counseling psychologists have also used the SOV to assist in educational guidance. The utility of the SOV in assisting college students in selecting a field of graduate education was demonstrated in a recent study by Richard Kopelman, David Prottas, and Lawrence Tatum. Value profiles derived from four measures of values were compared: the two Rokeach Value Surveys (Terminal and Instrumental), the Schwartz Value Scale, and the Study of Values. As predicted, the value categories of the SOV yielded distinct “ideal” profiles, as reported by deans and directors of graduate programs, in five of six different disciplines (business administration, fine arts, social work, divinity, and chemistry and physics). Deans of MBA programs saw the economic need as most salient; deans of MFA, MSW, M. Div., and M. Chem./ M. Phys. viewed the aesthetic, social, religious, and theoretical needs as most salient, respectively. In contrast, the other three value measures yielded generic profiles with respect to fields of graduate study; that is, the same values were seen as important across disciplines (e.g., wisdom, self-respect, achievement). It might be noted that the provision of counseling in connection with graduate education is not a trivial matter. Ten years ago (1995-1996), there were 2.8 million individuals enrolled in postbaccalaureate programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Over the years, several highly favorable reviews of the SOV have appeared in various editions of the Mental Measurements Yearbook. For example, Paul Meehl described the SOV as a remarkably good test; Harrison Gough concluded that the SOV possesses considerable merit and utility; and N. L. Gage opined that the SOV is a very good instrument for classroom demonstration, for counseling and vocational guidance, and for research on a wide variety of psychological questions. Robert Hogan noted that the SOV scale scores predict a variety of criteria in the theoretically expected manner and, furthermore, that when used with cooperative subjects, the SOV provides dependable and pertinent information concerning individual cases. Writing in 1951, the year of the SOV’s second and only substantive revision (prior to the 4th edition in 2003), Laurance Shaffer’s comments in the Journal of Consulting Psychology were prescient: He predicted that the Study of Values (in its “excellent” new format) seemed destined for several more decades of service as a tool for guidance and for research.

So why did the SOV go out of print and fall into psychological oblivion? It is likely that the SOV fell into disuse due to its increasingly archaic content (e.g., users did not know who Amundsen and Byrd were); a lack of religious inclusiveness (only churches were mentioned, no temples or mosques); dated cultural assumptions (especially concerning love and marriage); and obsolete linguistic terminology.

According to anecdotal reports of several experienced educators, whereas in the 1970s, students found the SOV “quaint,” by the 1980s, they found it “sexist” and “outdated.” When one “veteran” educator used the SOV with executive MBAs in the 1990s, he reported that “the women students wanted to lynch me!”

In response to these complaints and to resuscitate, if not resurrect, the SOV, a new 4th edition of the SOV was recently constructed, and it was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. In large measure, the new edition of the SOV brought the instrument into the twenty-first century merely by “tweaking” 15 of 45 items (e.g., substituting Bill Gates for Henry Ford). The psychometric properties of the new and earlier versions were found to be virtually identical. The 4th edition of the SOV is no longer characterized by sexist language or dated content.

In recent years, a number of researchers have lamented that existing values measures (not including the SOV) have demonstrated only limited evidence of validity, a phenomenon attributed to attempting to assess values directly. Furthermore, Kaipeng Peng, Richard Nisbett, and Nancy Wong have suggested that the low validities of commonly used value survey measures might be avoided by using a behavioral scenario methodology. Ironically, such a measurement method has long existed in the venerable SOV. Importantly, the SOV can again be successfully employed for research and practice in vocational psychology and to aid career development.

See also:


  1. Allport, G. W., Vernon, P. and Lindzey, G. 1970. Study of Values (Rev. 3d ed. and test manual). Chicago, IL: Riverside.
  2. Kopelman, R. E., Prottas, D. J. and Tatum, L. G. 2004. “Comparison of Four Measures of Values: Their Relative Usefulness in Graduate Education Advisement.” North American Journal of Psychology 6:205-218.
  3. Kopelman, R. E., Rovenpor, J. L. and Guan, M. 2003. “The Study of Values: Construction of the Fourth Edition.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 62:203-220.
  4. Mumford, M. D., Connelly, M. S., Helton, W. B., Van Doorn, J. R. and Osburn, H. K. 2002. Alternative Approaches to Measuring Values: Direct and Indirect Assessments in Performance Prediction. Journal of Vocational Behavior 61:348-373.
  5. Peng, K., Nisbett, R. E. and Wong, N. Y. C. 1997. “Validity Problems Comparing Values across Cultures and Possible Solutions.” Psychological Methods 2:329-344.
  6. Zaleznik, A., Dalton, G. W. and Barnes, L. B. 1970. Orientation and Conflict in Career. Boston, MA: Division of Research, Harvard Business School.