Protected Values

Published in: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 70, no. 1, Apr. 1997, p. 1-16

Posted on RAND.org on April 01, 1997

by Jonathan Baron, Mark Spranca

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Explores the concept of protected values--absolute values that people resist trading off with other values, particularly economic ones. Such values cause difficulty for policymakers, such as government agencies, in that they do not lend themselves to the optimization process on which such agents typically rely. The article theorizes that protected values express absolute rules concerning actions, rather than the consequences of those actions. By extension, this theory implies that protected values will tend to display such properties as quantity insensitivity, agent relativity, and moral obligation, and that when confronted with the need to make trade-offs with regard to protected values, people will experience anger and the denial of the need for trade-offs through wishful thinking. Each of these properties was correlated with trade-off residence in five different experimental studies, suggesting the salience of this conceptualization. Framing protected values in this manner points toward ways that policy analysts can help respondents avoid letting their protected values interfere with social decisionmaking.

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