Discover Values: Smashing Stereotypes?

Background information

A logo of a flower made up of lots of different shades of blue, pink, orange, green, yellow and purple. The words "Discover Values" are on the right in black text.

Thank you for participating in the Values Game.

As you have seen, groups of people are usually similar in their values. Here, we explain why this is the case and why it matters.

We also provide some background information about the data we used and how we created the graphs.

Background information

We often believe that people who vote for another party, have another gender, or are older or younger than us are also somehow different from us. We often assume that those ‘other people’ have different values. For example, we might think that compared to young people, older people attach substantially more importance to conservative values such as security or tradition.

Is this assumption correct? Do groups in fact have fundamentally different values?

We can answer this question by asking people to report their values, and then calculating the degree to which groups of people are similar in terms of their values. When we did this for the first time, we were surprised to see how much groups of people have in common.

For example, the majority of Conservative and Labour voters reported that helpfulness is important or very important to them. But also younger and older people agree that helpfulness is important. So do women and men.

Similarly, most people say that wealth or materialistic possessions are less important to them. This is again true for both Conservative and Labour voters, women and men, or younger and older people. In fact, the vast majority of people agrees that helpfulness is more important than wealth or materialistic possessions.

Why does this matter? In numerous studies we found that it is possible to change people’s misperceptions of other groups by showing these value similarities. This also increases people’s confidence that members of two groups can get along better or even become friends.

However, so far we have not found evidence that this similarity information changes people’s personal motivation to engage with someone from another group. This would be important because a lot of research has shown that being in contact with someone from another group reduces prejudice.

In future studies, we are therefore planning to test whether repeated exposure helps to also change people’s personal motivation.

Data and some technical information

The data you have seen is real and was collected in 2018 and 2019. Over 49,000 people from 29 countries completed the survey. In the values game we focused on the 2,204 people who were living in the United Kingdom. The data is freely available through the European Social Survey.

The survey included a measure of human values (e.g., helpfulness, security) which is very similar to the one you completed at the beginning of the Values Game. Since everyone who completed the value measure also answered questions about their gender, age, or for which party they voted during the last election, we can compare the responses. However, this is easier said than done, because there are many ways to compare responses.

Let’s start with comparing the group averages or group means. This is the most common way to compare (two) groups in the social sciences. The means in helpfulness of the voters of the Conservative and Labour party are shown in the top panel of the figure below. A casual visual inspection suggests that Conservative and Labour voters may substantially differ in how important helpfulness is to them.

What happens if we do not reduce the responses to the group averages or means? In this case we can see that there is a lot of overlap between voters of the Conservative and Labour party.

In our research we found that focusing on mean differences instead of the overlap exacerbates people’s stereotypes. By instead viewing both means and overlap, people are able to see any differences more precisely in the backdrop of very high amounts of similarity. 

A bar chart with "Helpfulness" on the left axis and "Conservative" and "Labour" on the bottom. The Conservative bar, in blue, is much smaller than the Labour bar, which is in red.
If we focus on averages, it appears that voters may substantially differ in how important helpfulness is to them...
A venn diagram with "92.8% similarity for Helpfulness" in the middle. On the left Conservative voters are in lilac and Labour voters are in peach on the right, but there is so much overlap that the diagram is mostly dark pink.
...but if we do not reduce the responses to averages, we find a lot of overlap between voters.

Further reading

In case you are interested in this topic, have a look at two of our articles which are published in scientific peer-reviewed journals:

Our work has been inspired by other research, especially: