Value Pluralism Model

Value Pluralism Model Definition

What happens when two or more values come into conflict? What will determine the level of conflict a person experiences, and how will the person go about resolving it? The value pluralism model (VPM) addresses these questions. The VPM, in its original form, consists of three interrelated sets of propositions:Value Pluralism Model

  1. Underlying all belief systems are core or terminal values that specify what the ultimate goals of life should be (e.g., economic efficiency, social equality, individual freedom). Different values may point to different and often contradictory goals.
  2. People find value conflicts challenging for at least three reasons. First, people confronted with conflicting values find it cognitively difficult to make apples-and-oranges comparisons between them (e.g., How much of my economic prosperity am i willing to give up to help promote social equality?). Second, value conflict is emotionally painful. Most people faced with a situation in which they must sacrifice one important value for another experience dissonance. The more important the value, the more painful the dissonance will be. Third, trade-offs between core values can be politically embarrassing: if one chooses one value over the other, one may feel he or she is letting down those who feel they have received the short end of the trade-off stick.
  3. Given these formidable obstacles, explicit reasoning about trade-offs between core values is stressful. in the short term, the motivation to reduce cognitive discrepancy stems from the need to reduce negative emotion, but in the long term, the motivation stems from the requirement for effective action. Whenever feasible, people should prefer modes of resolving conflict that are simple and require minimal effort. However, how much mental effort is required to resolve the dissonance will depend on the magnitude of the dissonance. Specifically, when a person is confronted with a situation that requires choosing between two values held with unequal strength, he or she will experience low dissonance. This occurs when a person believes more strongly in the importance of value A over value B. under these circumstances, the model hypothesizes that people will rely on the simple cognitive solution of denying or downplaying the weaker value and exaggerating or bolstering the stronger value. This process will suffice to resolve the dissonant reaction. in contrast, when dissonance is high, the simple solutions of bolstering and denial no longer offer plausible solutions. This occurs when the person not only perceives the conflicting values as important but also perceives them to be equally important. Under such circumstances, the person must turn to more effort-demanding strategies, such as differentiation (weighing the merits of each value) and integration (developing rules for trading off values). These are the two components of integrative complexity.

Extending the Value Pluralism Model

It often proves difficult, however, to motivate integratively complex processing even when important values clearly come into conflict. According to the revised VPM, two classes of variables must also be taken into account to determine whether people will indeed respond in integratively complex ways to high-value conflict situations. First, the social content of the colliding values has important implications for which conflicts people are likely to view as legitimate. Specifically, people are likely to accept trade-offs between secular values, such as money, time, and convenience, much more readily than they are willing to accept what are considered taboo trade-offs, such as those between secular values and sacred values (e.g., life, liberty, and justice). For example, although attaching monetary value to the services provided by an employee may be cognitively demanding, it is not normatively unacceptable. In contrast, attaching monetary value to human life is. Confronted with the need to conduct such forbidden trade-offs, decision makers are likely to rely on massive impression-management efforts to conceal, obfuscate, or redefine what they are doing to protect themselves from the harsh judgment of observers.

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Second, the social context of decision making is also important. Specifically, the types of accountability pressures people experience can dramatically lower or raise thresholds for complex trade-off reasoning. For example, if individuals, unconstrained by prior commitments, are confronted with a single audience whose views are known, they will tend to adjust their opinions in the direction of the audience and show no awareness of counterarguments or trade-offs. Alternatively, if decision makers believe that they will be blamed for whatever position they take on a trade-off problem, they are likely to resort to the avoidance tactics of buck-passing (shifting responsibility to others) or procrastination (delaying decision making). In contrast, when people are accountable for the long-term consequences of their decisions or when they are confronted with an audience with unknown views or with conflicting views, there is no simple solution available and no opportunity to delay. People have no choice but to respond complexly. Thus, complex reasoning will only be activated when decision makers are accountable to an audience that cannot be easily appeased.

Value Pluralism Model Evidence and Implications

The value pluralism model was initially developed to explain individual differences in political reasoning. For example, it was able to resolve a long-standing puzzle in political psychology of why advocates of centrist and moderate left-wing causes tend to discuss issues in more complex trade-off terms than do advocates of conservative or right-wing causes. Indeed, in support of the VPM, evidence suggests that the former are more likely to attach high importance to potentially contradictory values. Numerous archival and laboratory studies have since confirmed the basic predictions of the model and have extended its implications to other social domains, such as tolerance of outgroup members, resource distribution decisions, religious orthodoxy, and media and rhetoric effects on attitude change. Recently it has been used to explain the cognitive changes that occur when individuals are exposed to a second culture. Specifically, it has been suggested that individuals who cope with the social and cultural conflict situations associated with the acculturation process by internalizing the values of both old and new cultural groups (i.e., become bicultural) will become more integratively complex than those who choose to adhere to the values of only one cultural group. This will be due to the greater dissonance bicultural individuals experience during the acculturation process.

Importantly, although integrative complexity was originally viewed as a relatively stable personality trait, recent research inspired by the VPM has highlighted the fact that no stable individual differences should be expected. Rather, the complexity of one’s reasoning on an issue is a function of the intensity of value conflict activated by that issue and the accountability pressures the individual faces. Indeed, similar levels of integrative complexity should be expected only to the degree that the issues sampled activate similar levels of value conflict and when the accountability pressures are conducive to complex thought. Moreover, evidence suggests that, contrary to popular belief, complex solutions should not be viewed as either cognitively or morally superior to simple reasoning. Rather, whether integrative complexity should be viewed as beneficial is context dependent.

Significance of the Value Pluralism Model

The VPM explains how people deal with value conflicts of varying intensity and types. It suggests that although individuals may prefer to be cognitive misers and favor simple strategies to minimize cognitive dissonance, under conditions of high value conflict, they can be motivated to evoke more effort-intensive strategies.


  1. Tadmor, C. T., & Tetlock, P. E. (2006). Biculturalism: A model of the effects of second-culture exposure on acculturation and integrative complexity. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 37(2), 173-190.
  2. Tetlock, P. E. (1986). A value pluralism model of ideological reasoning. JournaJ of PersonaJity and SociaJ PsychoJogy, 50(A), 819-827.
  3. Tetlock, P. E., Peterson, R. S., Lerner, J. S. (1996). Revising the value pluralism model: Incorporating social content and context postulates. In C. Seligman, J. M. Olson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), The Ontario symposium: The psychology of values (Vol. 9, pp. 25-1-9). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.