Baron, J., & Spranca, M. (1997). Protected values.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 70,
University of Pennsylvania
Original text of Baron, J., & Spranca, M. (1997). Protected values. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 70, 1-16.
Protected values are those that resist tradeoffs with other
values, particularly economic values. We propose that such
values arise from deontological rules concerning action. People
are concerned about their participation in transactions rather
than just with the consequences that result. This proposal
implies that protected values, defined as those that display
tradeoff resistance, will also tend to display quantity
insensitivity, agent relativity, and moral
obligation. People will also tend to experience anger at
the thought of making tradeoffs, and to engage in denial of
the need for tradeoffs through wishful thinking. These five
properties were correlated with tradeoff resistance (across
different values, within subjects) in five studies in which
subjects answered several questions about each of several values,
or in which they indicated their willingness to pay to prevent
some harmful action. These correlations were found even when the
subjects could not tell the experimenters which values they were
responding to, so they cannot be ascribed entirely to subjects'
desire to express commitment. We discuss implications for value
measurement and public policy.
Some theories of rational decision making require tradeoffs among
values, including moral values. According to these theories, if
we value human life and other goods as well, we will rationally
spend some amount of money to reduce risks of death, but not an
infinite amount. Some risks are just too small and too costly to
reduce. The same goes for all other values, such as those for
the protection of nature or individual freedom from interference.
Such willingness to make tradeoffs is especially reasonable when
we consider what would mean to be completely committed to some
value. It would mean that we could not take any risk of
sacrificing this value, through our actions or our failures to
act. We would thus be obliged to spend our lives looking for
actions that could reduce small risks of sacrificing this value.
If we had more than one such value, we would be in a serious
Although the need to make tradeoffs is a fact of life, it is not
one that everyone is happy with. Some people say that human
lives - or human rights, or natural resources - are infinitely
more important than other economic goods. These people hold what
we call protected values. Some of their values, as they conceive
them, are protected against being traded off for other values.
People who hold protected values may behaviorally trade them off
for other things - by risking lives or by sacrificing nature or
human rights - but they are not happy with themselves for doing
so, if they are aware of what they are doing. They are caught in
binds that force them to violate some important value, but the
value is no less important to them because of this behavioral
2.1 Why protected values cause problems
We have noted that protected values are typically impossible for
individuals to satisfy. Protected values also cause difficulties
for institutions, such as government agencies, that try to
satisfy the values of many people. If everyone has values that
can be traded off, then, in principle, it might be possible to
measure the values and arrive at a utilitarian decision that
maximizes total value satisfaction, i.e., total utility. At such
an optimum, we cannot increase one person's utility without
reducing someone else's utility by at least the same amount.
Government agencies attempt this sort of optimization when they
assess the value of human life in order to determine whether
environmental regulations, safety programs, or medical treatments
Protected values cause trouble for such efforts because they
imply that one value is infinitely more important than others.
If the value of forests is infinite for some people, we will
simply not cut them, and we will have to find substitutes for
wood and paper. Even if only a few people place such an infinite
value on forests, their values will trump everyone else's values,
and everyone else will spend more money and make do with plastic.
This is still (theoretically) a utilitarian optimum. But a
social decision not to cut any forests because a few people have
infinite values for them seems to give excessive weight to those
Other problems arise when protected values conflict. If some
people have protected values for yew trees while others have
protected values for the rights of cancer patients to the drug
that is produced from them, no solution seems possible. Of
course, a solution is possible. We could honor one side or the
other, ignoring the rights of patients or trees. But the choice
of the solution would be unaffected by the number of those who
favored patients vs. trees.
Such a situation violates apparent normative principles of
decision making. For example, it is reasonable to think that,
for two options L and T, we either prefer L, prefer T, or we are
indifferent. In the situation just described, we would be
indifferent, since either solution is "optimal" in the sense
that any improvement for one person will make someone else worse
off by at least the same amount. Yet, a doubling of the number
of people who favored L or T would not change the decision. This
seems to violate a principle of dominance, which could be stated
roughly as, "If we are indifferent between L and T and then get
additional reason for L (or T), we should then favor L (or T)."
The same problems arise within an individual who holds
conflicting protected values. An additional argument for one
option or another will not swing the decision.
To avoid problems of this sort, most normative theories of
decision making assume that values can be traded off. That is,
for any pair of values, a sufficiently small change in the
satisfaction of one value can be compensated by a change in some
other value.2 The
values may be held by the same person or by different people. We
call values compensatory when they are part of such a
pair. Economic theory speaks of tradeoff functions. Utility
theory assumes that each value takes the form of a utility
function relating individual utility to the amount of a good or
some attribute of the good.
Protected values thus create problems for utilitarian analysis,
such as violations of the dominance principle. Economic analysis
seems to avoid some of these problems by converting all values to
money before comparing them, rather than using utility as that
common coin. If we try to assess people's willingness to pay
(WTP) to avoid violations of protected values, we often find that
it is finite. Realistically, people can pay only so much, so WTP
is finite. However, the appropriate measure is sometimes
willingness to accept (WTA), e.g., when individuals have
rights to the goods in question. Moreover, in a cost-benefit
analysis, the total WTA of all those with rights is the relevant
value. If a few people have infinite WTA for a forest, then the
forest has infinite economic value. It cannot be cut. When
rights conflict, so that we have no choice but to violate one
right or another, and when some people have protected values for
each of the conflicting rights, we are back to the same problem
of dominance violations. We can still make decisions, for
example, by voting. But voting need not honor protected values.
For example, voting on the siting of hazardous facilities will
allow them to be put almost anywhere, even over the ancient
burial grounds of native peoples.
2.2 The existence of protected values
The seriousness of these problems, and the possibility of
solutions to them, may depend on the nature of protected values
themselves. This article proposes a theory of protected values
and presents some preliminary tests of it. In essence, we
propose that protected values derive from rules that prohibit
certain actions, rather than values for potential outcomes of
these actions. If this is true, then part of the solution to the
problem may involve separate measurement of values for actions
and outcomes, if it is possible to do this.
People do claim to hold protected values. These values appear in
survey responses. In the method of contingent valuation (CV),
respondents are asked how much they would pay for some good, such
as protection of a wilderness area, or how much they would accept
to give up the good. Some respondents refuse to answer such
questions sensibly (Mitchell & Carson, 1989). They say "zero"
or "no amount" because they think that "we shouldn't put a
price on nature." These responses may reflect people's true
values, even if the same people are inconsistent with these
values in their behavior. If some people say that trees have
infinite value and you point out to them that they have just sent
a fax when they could have used electronic mail, they may admit
that they do not really place an infinite value on trees, but
they may, instead, feel guilty at realizing that they have
violated one of their values. If we are trying to do what is
best for people, we may sometimes do better to try to satisfy the
values they hold rather than the values they reveal in their
behavior, for people may sometimes regret their own behavior.
Their behavior may be inconsistent with their values. Even when
people hold conflicting values that are impossible to satisfy
jointly in this world, they may wish they lived in a different
world. We cannot dismiss these statements with a charge of
Some philosophers and social theorists defend these refusals to
make tradeoffs. These defenses provide additional evidence of
the reality of protected values, at least in the theorists
themselves. Schwartz (1986) argues that certain practices should
be inviolable, not compromised by tradeoffs with anything else.
For example, academic standards for giving grades should not be
distorted by the desire to pass the quarterback of the football
team, regardless of how important it is for the team to win or
how few additional examination points are needed. Anderson
(1993) argues that economists and utility theorists have a
distorted view of the nature of human values. Anderson argues
that values cannot be measured quantitatively for the purpose of
trading them off. Social decisions, she says, must be reached by
a process of discussion. (She does not say how this discussion
is to proceed without at least some implicit discussion of the
strengths of competing values.)
2.3 The purpose of the present theory
Our purpose is to explain the nature of protected values. What
are their general properties? How do they participate in
We do not attempt to settle the philosophical questions about the
sense in which protected values are subject to criticism or not
(see Baron, 1988, for discussion), although, if we can answer the
question of what they are as they commonly occur, that discussion
may be able to focus more accurately on its topic.
We also do not concern ourselves with the empirical question of
how people resolve conflicts involving protected values.
However, our findings may bear on the question of how such formal
procedures as cost-benefit analysis could take these values into
account without violating the underlying utilitarian theory. The
psychological nature of values is central to the question of how
we should deal with them. Of course, all we can do is examine
some of the most common kinds of protected values in some
cultures. We may miss the discovery of values with a different
psychological nature, to which philosophical arguments may be
relevant that are not relevant to the values we find.
Finally, we do not attempt to answer the question of
which values are protected or absolute. Others have attempted
this, and we have drawn on their work in designing tests of our
theory, without necessarily accepting all their conclusions.
Andre (1992) provides a taxonomy of "blocked exchanges," cases
in which it is either impossible or immoral to sell something; we
focus here on cases in which it is thought to be immoral although
possible. Fiske and Tetlock (1997) attempt another analysis in
terms of modes of social interaction (see also Tetlock, Lerner,
& Peterson, 1996, pp. 36-39).
2.4 Protected values as deontological rules
Our purpose here is to examine the nature of such absolute values
as they commonly occur. We present a theory about these values,
and some preliminary results. We conclude with a discussion of
the implications of these values for utilitarian decision making.
We call the values in question "protected" to emphasize the
fact that their defining property is the reluctance of their
holders to trade them off with other values. They are at least
partially protected from tradeoffs. This is what makes them
troublesome for utilitarian analysis of decisions. As we pointed
out, protected values exist in judgment, but cannot fully exist
We propose that these values express absolute deontological
rules, rules that apply to certain behavior "whatever the
consequences." An example of such a rule is "Do not destroy
natural processes irreversibly." Such a rule prohibits the
holder from destroying species, even if, for example, the
destruction in question would have the effect of saving more
species in total. Utilitarianism, utility theory, and other
forms of consequentialism define right or optimal action in terms
of some evaluation of expected consequences. By contrast,
deontological rules specify that certain actions should be taken
or not taken as a function of a description of the action itself.
The description may refer to the way an action is performed, its
motives, its antecedent conditions, and even its immediate
consequences, e.g., a direct causal link between the action and
extinction of a species. But, if the description includes all the
consequences and nothing else, then the rule becomes effectively
When people who try to follow such rules are asked about their
values, they are reminded of the rules. So, for example, a
person asked about WTA for species destruction will interpret
acceptance of the money as complicity in the destruction and will
refuse to accept any amount. The use of hypothetical questions
does not prevent this interpretation: hypothetical questions are
simulations of real questions, and subjects might think that even
their answers to hypothetical questions will be known to the
experimenter and perhaps reported, so their answers are still
real in the sense that they may influence others, just as an
opinion poll might do so.
Deontological rules are typically agent-relative as opposed to
agent-neutral (e.g., Nagel, 1986). Agent-relative rules are
those that concern the involvement of a particular person. A
rule that parents ought to care for their children is an
agent-relative rule, because it concerns particular people. It
is not the same as a rule that the children should somehow be
cared for, or a rule that we should regard parents caring for
their own children as a good consequence. A truly agent-relative
rule would hold that X should care about X's child's welfare and
Y should care about Y's child's welfare, but X need have no
concern either with Y's child or with insuring that Y look
out for the welfare of Y's own child.
Deontological rules typically prohibit harmful actions (e.g.,
destroying species) rather than harmful omissions (e.g., doing
nothing to stop destruction by others), although they may also
prohibit omissions under specific and limited conditions (e.g.,
neglecting one's child or one's job - see Baron, 1996). In
general, people think of acts as those that cause relevant
outcomes through a chain of causality that involves predictable
physical or psychological principles at each step (Baron, 1993).
If we fail to prevent some harm because we are out playing tennis
at the time it happens, no such link can be made between our
behavior and the harm, although, in another sense, we cause it.
Rules that are agent-relative and that concern harmful actions
(or specifically limited harmful omissions) create limited
obligations. As a result, deontological rules are easier to
think of as absolute. Consequentialist principles, by contrast,
can create unlimited obligations unless they can be traded off
with other obligations. Consider a consequentialist rule that
prohibited tradeoffs, such as, "the destruction of species is
infinitely bad." Such a rule would have to be honored before
any other decision criteria, for omissions as well as
commissions. People who took this rule seriously would have to
design their lives so that they did as much as possible to
preserve species, and to induce others to do the same. Only when
they had satisfied this criterion could they apply other
criteria. A rule based on consequences does not make a
distinction between acts and omissions or between self and
others, so the injunction to act to preserve species and to
induce others to do so would be as strong as the injunction not
to destroy them. A person who took this kind of rule seriously
would be a fanatic. Perhaps some fanatics do indeed think this
way. Because of the practical difficulty of living this way,
however, fanatics are rare.
Deontological rules are not necessarily protected against
tradeoffs. Indeed, philosophers typically regard them as
prima facie constraints that can be overridden by other
constraints, or by consequentialist considerations. Our
suggestion is thus that essentially all protected values are
deontological, not that all deontological rules are protected.
Of course, people do have rules based on consequences, but almost
all of these rules trade off with other considerations, so that
they do not lead to this problem. Moreover, people who hold
protected values for some things also hold compensatory values
for other things, and these compensatory values trade off in the
usual ways. A person who holds a protected value for species may
still buy a car by thinking about the tradeoffs among price,
safety, efficiency, etc. Protected values are thus a function of
both the value and the person.
The defining property of protected values is absoluteness.
Our proposal that these values arise from deontological rules
implies directly that three other properties should be present in
most cases in which absoluteness is present: quantity
insensitivity, agent relativity, and moral obligation. These
properties need not be perfectly correlated with absoluteness,
for other sorts of values may exist that have some of these
properties but not all of them.
Absoluteness expresses itself in resistance to tradeoffs.
People resist trading off protected values with compensatory
values, such as their value for money. Typically, people want
protected values to trump any decision involving a conflict
between a protected and a compensatory value (Baron, 1986). In
this sense, protected values are absolute. The resistance to
make tradeoffs can also express itself in refusals to answer
questions about tradeoffs. Thus, those with a rule against
destroying species may refuse to accept any amount of money in
return for allowing such destruction, or they may refuse to say
how much they would accept. When asked how much they are willing
to pay, they may again try to avoid answering. Potentially such
a question creates a conflict with another protected value that
people are not so willing to acknowledge, that for their own
life. Someone who pays everything to save a species would die
from inability to afford the necessities of life. The important
implication here is the avoidance of tradeoffs of the usual sort.
Of course, people with protected values may still answer tradeoff
questions, with difficulty, in order to oblige the researcher.
Notice that when protected values lead to lexicographic rules -
rules that eliminate options by applying one value at a time -
these rules are not mere heuristics of the sort found in studies
of consumer choices and others without moral components (e.g.,
Payne, Bettman, & Johnson, 1993). It may be reasonable for
people to use a strategy of eliminating apartments if the rent is
above a cutoff, even though people know that they might be
willing to pay more if everything else were absolutely perfect.
This is a heuristic because it is knowingly adopted to save time
and effort. Protected values are different. They are treated
If absolute values arise from deontological prohibitions, they
will tend to have the following properties.
1. Quantity insensitivity. Quantity of consequences is
irrelevant for protected values. Destroying one species through
a single act is as bad as destroying a hundred through a single
act. The protected value applies to the act, not the result
(although a compensatory value may apply to the result as well).
One form of quantity insensitivity is insensitivity to
probability of occurrence.
Some opponents of abortion seem to ignore quantity when they
oppose spending government money on international family planning
programs that carry out abortions, even if the money does not pay
for the abortions and even if other expenditures actually
reduce the number of abortions performed. It is not the number
of abortions they care about. Another example was the attitude
of some abortion opponents to the use of fetal tissue in medical
research, which they felt might encourage some women to have
abortions: "In our view, if just one additional fetus were lost
because of the allure of directly benefiting another life by the
donation of fetal tissue, our department [Health and Human
Services] would still be against federal funding. ... The
issue is about whether or not the federal government should
administer a policy that encourages induced abortions. However
few or many more abortions result from this type of research
cannot be erased or outweighed by the potential benefit of the
research" (Mason, 1990).
2. Agent relativity. Protected values are agent relative, as
opposed to being agent general. This means that participation of
the decision maker is important, as opposed to the consequences
themselves. This follows from the assumption that protected
values arise as rules about action.
For present purposes (following our earlier discussion), agent
relativity includes concern with action rather than omission (and
related distinctions such as changing vs. not changing the
status-quo, or causing an outcome vs. letting it happen: see
Ritov & Baron, 1992; Spranca et al., 1991). Consider again the
example of giving aid to family planning programs that carry out
abortions. If the aid is withheld, arguably, the number of
abortions will increase. However, those who withhold the aid
would not feel responsible for these abortions if they think that
they are not responsible for the results of their inaction. If
protected values were agent general, people would have infinite
responsibility for preventing violation of those values wherever
it occurred. The combination of agent-general obligations with
quantity-insensitivity for probability would generate obligations
to take any action that might do some good, however improbably.
A distinction between acts and omissions is therefore compelled
by absoluteness, for practical reasons, even if people might
otherwise see these values as agent-general.
3. Moral obligation. The actions required or prohibited by
protected values are seen as moral obligations in the sense of
Turiel (1983). Moral obligations are not just conventions or
personal preferences. They are seen as universal and independent
of what people think. They are also seen as objective
obligations: people should try to carry them out even if they do
not think they should. This is not to say that compensatory
values are always nonmoral. Many are moral too. People who
endorse deontological principles, however, may think of
objectivity and universality as required in order to prevent
tradeoffs. If someone thought of a principle as something that
did not apply to people in certain situations or to people who
did not endorse it, then she would be more free to conclude that
she herself was in a situation where it did not apply or that she
was no longer bound by it because she no longer endorsed it, and
these conclusions would permit her to trade it off with other
These three properties follow from the the idea of rules
concerning actions. However, variants are possible. For
example, one variant keeps the action-based aspect while giving
up absoluteness. By this variant, we should allocate resources
in proportion to the rightness of making allocations of
various kinds rather than the goodness of the
results.3 Thus, people may believe that the best method of
allocating resources is according to the importance of the kind
of action paid for by each expenditure rather than according to
the effects of the allocation on solving the problem or even
according to the size of the problem. Unlike an absolute rule,
this rule allows us to allocate some resources to less important
actions, but without regard to the consequences.
Two other properties follow from those just listed, along with
4. Denial of tradeoffs by wishful thinking. People may
resist the idea that anything must be sacrificed at all for the
sake of their value. People generally tend to deny the existence
of tradeoffs (Jervis, 1976, pp. 128-142; Montgomery, 1984), and
this tendency may be particularly strong when one of the values
involved is not supposed to trade off with anything. People may
desire to believe that their values do no harm. Thus, opponents
of family planning assistance are prone to deny that cutting aid
will increase the abortion rate, or have any other undesired
5. Anger. People may become angry at the thought of
violation of a protected value. This is a consequence of its
being a moral violation. Tetlock et al. (1996) have described
both this property and the denial of the need for tradeoffs in
preliminary data on reluctance to make tradeoffs, which
anticipates the present work in these respects.
We hypothesize that these five properties will be correlated with
absoluteness, across different values within each subject. These
correlations need not be perfect. Each of the other properties
could have other causes aside from absoluteness. However, the
correlations should be substantial to the extent to which our
proposal is helpful in understanding values in general.
When people say that their values are absolute, they may
sometimes be simply taking a strong negotiating stance, making
"nonnegotiable demands." We call this "posturing."
Environmentalists do not want to be drawn into a debate of how
much money a pristine forest is worth. They would rather say
that it should simply be preserved, whatever the cost. Still,
the fact that philosophical writers defend such absolute values
suggests that this is not just a bargaining ploy. Our studies
address posturing in a couple of ways, which we shall discuss.
We report five experiments. The first three were general surveys
of several different values of the sort found to be protected in
pilot studies (not reported). The values we examined concerned
activities or actions, such as abortion or destruction of natural
resources, that some people regard as morally prohibited despite
benefits that cause people to engage in them. We hypothesize
that opposition to these actions involves protected values in
many people. We define a value as protected for a subject when
the subject says that the value should not be traded off, i.e.,
it is absolute. We ask whether such protected values have the
other properties we have listed. In particular, we examine
correlations across items within a subject between absoluteness
and each of the other five properties. The first study also
compared conditions in which subjects either did or did not
indicate to the experimenter what actions they were rating.
The last two studies concerned sensitivity to quantity, each in
the case of a single kind of value: Experiment 4 concerned the
prohibition of unnaturally raising IQ through genetic
engineering; Experiment 5 concerned endangered species. We are
particularly interested in the subjects - however few there are
- who are willing to make tradeoffs. We asked whether these
subjects were less sensitive to quantity when protected values
were involved. Quantity was the number of children in Experiment
4 and the probability of saving a species in Experiment 5.
3.1 Experiment 1
We presented subjects with 14 different actions and asked 12
questions about each one. The questions corresponded to the
hypothesized properties of protected values. The actions were
chosen on the basis of pilot studies and prior literature. We
tried to select actions so that each action would be prohibited
by a protected value for some subjects.
We were also concerned about the effects of posturing. Subjects
who felt very strongly about some values might say that they
would not trade these values off with anything, etc., as a way of
impressing the experimenter or others with the strength of their
commitment. They may approach the experiment as if it were an
opinion poll of sorts. This could make them exaggerate their
views for the purpose of influencing others' opinions about the
issues or about themselves. To look for such posturing, we
compared two conditions. In the "public" condition, subjects
reported the number of each action they were answering about, so
that we could tabulate the responses by action. In the
"private" condition, subjects omitted the numbers of the
actions, so that we could not tabulate responses. Nobody could
know what issue the subject was responding to.
Subjects were 72 students from the University of Pennsylvania and
the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, solicited by
advertising and paid $6/hour for completing this questionnaire
Subjects answered 12 questions about each of 14 actions. The
number of each action was printed on a card. The subject had the
cards, an answer sheet with a table for the answers, and a list
of the actions and the questions. In the private condition,
subjects wrote answers without identifying the actions to which
they were responding. The instructions for that condition read
"You have a list of actions that some people oppose, numbered
1-14. Some of these are happening now, and others are not. For
each action, suppose that those in favor of it were willing to
pay a great deal of money. Please answer questions A-L for each
action by writing YES, NO, or ? (not sure) in the blank on the
answer sheet. Use one row for each action.
"We are interested in the relations between one answer and another
answer. We want you to give your honest opinion about each
question. We think you can do that best if there is no
possibility that anyone will know which action you are talking
about. We would like you to determine the order of the 14 items
by shuffling cards with the numbers 1-14 and then answering the
items in the order you get. Please DO NOT write the
number of the item you are answering. This way, we cannot tell
which action you are responding to."
In the "public" condition, the last paragraph read: "In order
to randomize the order, we would like you to determine the order
of the 14 items by shuffling cards with the numbers 1-14 and
then answering the items in the order you get. Please write
the number of the action you are answering in the leftmost
column, so we can tell which action you are responding to."
The actions were:
1. Destruction of natural forests by human activity, resulting in
the extinction of plant and animal species forever.
2. Raising the IQ of normal children by giving them (completely
3. Using genetic engineering to make people more intelligent.
4. Performing abortions of normal fetuses in the early stages of
5. Performing abortions of normal fetuses in the second trimester
6. Fishing in a way that leads to the painful death of dolphins.
7. Forcing women to be sterilized because they are retarded.
8. Forcing women to have abortions when they have had too many
children, for the purpose of population control.
9. Putting people in jail for expressing nonviolent political
10. Letting people sell their organs (for example, a kidney or an
eye) for whatever price they can command.
11. Refusing to treat someone who needs a kidney transplant because
he or she cannot afford it.
12. Letting a doctor assist in the suicide of a consenting
terminally ill patient.
13. Letting a family sell their daughter in a bride auction (that
is, the daughter becomes the bride of the highest bidder).
14. Punishing people for expressing nonviolent political
The questions were:
A. I do not oppose this.
B. This should be prohibited no matter how great the benefits
from allowing it.
C. If this is happening now, no more should be allowed no matter
how great the benefits from allowing it.
D. My own role in this matters. If my own government allows
this, I have more of an obligation to try to stop it than if some
other government does, even if I have equal influence over both
E. In public discussions of this issue, it is most effective to
exaggerate the strength of our opposition to this.
F. In public discussions of this issue, it is morally
right to exaggerate the strength of our opposition to this.
G. It is impossible for me to think about how much
benefit we should demand in order to allow this to happen.
H. It is equally wrong to allow some of this to happen and to
allow twice as much to happen. The amount doesn't matter.
I. It is worse to allow twice as much to happen than to allow
J. This would be wrong even in a country where everyone thought
it was not wrong.
K. People have an obligation to try to stop this even if they
think they do not.
L. In the real world, there is nothing we can gain by allowing
this to happen.
Questions B and C (and possibly G) assessed absoluteness; D
assessed agent relativity (an issue examined more in subsequent
experiments); E and F assessed posturing, the willingness to
overstate for for strategic purposes; H and I were supposed to
assess quantity insensitivity; J and K assessed moral obligation;
and L assessed denial of tradeoffs. Each question was coded as 1
for yes and 0 for no.
Properties of protected values. Subjects generally
endorsed hypothesized properties of protected values - quantity
insensitivity, denial, moral obligation, and agent relativity -
more often for absolute values than for other values. We made
these comparison within each subject and then averaged the
results across subjects.
Table 1 shows the percent of subjects giving positive answers to
each question for each of the 14 actions for the public condition
only. It is apparent that many subjects endorsed the answers
characteristic of protected values.
Percent of subjects endorsing each question for each action.
To evaluate differences among types of values within each
subject, we divided each subject's values into those that the
subject did not oppose (answered "yes" to question A), those
that the subject opposed but did not consider Absolute ("no" to
A, B, and C), and those that were Absolute ("no" to A, "yes"
to B and C).4
Table 2 shows the mean proportions of hypothesized properties,
averaged across subjects, as a function of this categorization.
For example, a subject who considered five values to be
"absolute" and answered "yes" to question L for four of these
would get a proportion of 80% for the "Denial" column of the
"Absolute" row. The average across subjects for this cell of
Table 2 used one such proportion from each subject. Our
hypotheses concern the difference between the properties of
values considered "Absolute" and values that are merely
"Opposed," but we tested the difference between Not-opposed and
Opposed as well.
|Action ||A ||B ||C ||D ||E ||F ||G ||H ||I ||J ||K ||L|
|12 ||Assist suicide ||73 ||28 ||24 ||30 ||50 ||20 ||32 ||47 ||16 ||29 ||28 ||25|
|4 ||Early abortion ||53 ||34 ||37 ||54 ||51 ||37 ||40 ||47 ||43 ||44 ||38 ||41|
|2 ||IQ with drugs ||42 ||56 ||62 ||27 ||50 ||25 ||48 ||56 ||27 ||53 ||49 ||32|
|10 ||Sell organs ||37 ||48 ||47 ||50 ||59 ||32 ||45 ||53 ||52 ||45 ||45 ||42|
|3 ||IQ genetic ||37 ||52 ||52 ||26 ||58 ||28 ||38 ||47 ||34 ||59 ||46 ||30|
|7 ||Sterilize ||35 ||54 ||52 ||52 ||54 ||37 ||48 ||54 ||37 ||46 ||44 ||29|
|5 ||Late abortion ||24 ||54 ||54 ||62 ||64 ||48 ||59 ||66 ||38 ||66 ||53 ||50|
|8 ||Force abortion ||15 ||67 ||66 ||60 ||71 ||47 ||54 ||71 ||44 ||66 ||54 ||47|
|9 ||Free speech ||14 ||74 ||79 ||67 ||67 ||45 ||71 ||76 ||63 ||75 ||69 ||73|
|13 ||Sell daughter ||12 ||73 ||79 ||58 ||77 ||58 ||64 ||79 ||50 ||73 ||63 ||75|
|14 ||Free speech ||11 ||73 ||82 ||62 ||72 ||55 ||72 ||75 ||53 ||81 ||73 ||64|
|1 ||End species ||09 ||83 ||82 ||66 ||73 ||58 ||69 ||54 ||56 ||83 ||63 ||59|
|6 ||Kill dolphins ||06 ||69 ||72 ||57 ||70 ||54 ||52 ||75 ||58 ||71 ||67 ||64|
|11 ||Refuse kidney ||06 ||73 ||82 ||73 ||71 ||56 ||64 ||78 ||51 ||94 ||75 ||58|
|. ||Private actions ||31 ||59 ||59 ||58 ||56 ||46 ||50 ||61 ||53 ||59 ||47 ||42|
Percent of positive responses to each question (or pair of
questions) as a function of the answer to the questions about
opposition to the action in question and absoluteness,
Experiments 1-3. An asterisk indicates that the number listed
was not significantly greater (p < .05) than the number directly
above it from the same Experiment.
Note: Significance tests in the table are based on tests across
subjects of within-subject differences. In an alternative
analysis, correlations (tau) were computed for each item across
subjects and then tested across the 14 items used in each study.
All differences shown as significant in the table (those without
asterisks) were sigificant at the same level or better by this
Some of the properties were averages of two questions. Posture
was the average of questions E and F (which correlated highly,
mean g = .74), and Moral was the average of J and K (mean
g = .86). Other properties were responses to single
questions: Agent for question D; Denial for L; and Quantity for
H. (H did not correlate negatively with I as expected.) We name
the variables in this way to facilitate comparison across
All comparisons between each proportion and the one above it were
significant (p < .01) except those marked with asterisks (which
were not significant at p < .05). In essence, our hypotheses
were supported except for the Agent property (agent relativity).
Specifically, the proportions of endorsement of each property
(Quantity, Denial, and Moral) were higher for Absolute values
than for Opposed. For Agent, however, subjects felt obliged to
stop something even when they were just opposed to it, no matter
where it was. Endorsement of Posture was greater for Absolute
values than Opposed, but the difference was not significant here.
Public vs. private. We found the results just
described in both public and private conditions. To compare
public and private conditions - a between-subject manipulation
- we averaged across issues for each subject.
To compare the extent to which values were protected in the two
conditions, public and private, we defined a new index for each
subject, Protect, as the average of all the items making up
Absolute, Quantity, Denial, and Moral, plus item G, which
correlated with the others. We also computed each subject's mean
value of Posture (items E and F, as before) across items.
Condition (public, coded 1, vs. private, coded 0) did not
correlate significantly with Protect (r=.15) or Posture
(r=.05). The first correlation is in the direction
hypothesized - more properties of protected values for the
public condition - but it is small. In addition, the
association (measured as a g coefficient within each
subject) between each property (Quantity, Denial, Moral, and
Agent) and Absolute did not correlate with condition, and the
pattern of significant differences among the three value
categories was the same for the private group alone as for the
combined group (except for Posture, where the difference between
Opposed and Not opposed was no longer significant).
Protect was also uncorrelated with Posture across subjects
(r=.10). This suggests that protected values are not just the
result of a tendency to posture, even though items that evoke
protected values over all subjects also evoke posturing, as
described earlier. The fact that Posture is uncorrelated with
Protect and the fact that evidence of protected values is still
found in the private condition both indicate that protected
values are not simply a matter of posturing.
We found no sex differences in Protect.
|Quantity ||Denial ||Moral ||Agent ||Posture
||Bother ||Anger |
|Experiment 1 |
|Not opposed ||24 ||18 ||11 ||26 ||25 |
|Opposed ||41* ||23* ||41 ||57 ||46 |
|Absolute ||80 ||64 ||79 ||72* ||69 |
|Experiment 2 |
|Not opposed ||53 ||7 ||9 ||19 ||20 ||19 ||15 |
|Opposed ||44* ||15* ||35 ||40* ||48 ||45 ||37 |
|Absolute ||74 ||60 ||81 ||70 ||65* ||77 ||56 |
|Experiment 3 |
|Not opposed ||75 ||7 ||9 ||12 ||18 |
|Opposed ||46* ||19* ||60 ||62 ||56 |
|Absolute ||52* ||55 ||73* ||80 ||68* |
3.2 Experiment 2
This experiment added questions about emotion, to test the
hypothesis that emotion, particularly anger, is related to other
properties of protected values (suggested by Tetlock et al.,
1996). It also asked whether protected values could be
manipulated by presenting items in increasing or decreasing order
of tendency to oppose them. Objectionable actions might induce a
feeling of anger that would carry over to other items if these
Fifty-five subjects were solicited as in Experiment 1. The
actions were the same as those used in Experiment 1, except that
item 14 was replace with "using condoms to prevent the birth of
unwanted children in marriage." Half of the subjects read the
new item first and the rest of the items ordered as in Table 3.
The other half read the items in the reverse order.
Mean percent of subjects endorsing each question for each action,
Experiment 3. (For Item H, this is the percent who thought
The questions were identical to those use in Experiment 1, except
that two questions about emotion were added:
|Action ||A ||B ||C ||D ||E ||F ||G ||H ||I ||J ||L ||M |
|2 ||Coma unpermitted ||08 ||76 ||56 ||58 ||64 ||56 ||69 ||45 ||78 ||68 ||79 ||74 |
|9 ||Kill species ||10 ||71 ||47 ||59 ||78 ||54 ||66 ||56 ||86 ||73 ||65 ||76 |
|10 ||Kill dolphins ||13 ||76 ||50 ||50 ||76 ||51 ||65 ||50 ||74 ||54 ||66 ||79 |
|6 ||Abortion 3rd ||22 ||50 ||31 ||62 ||71 ||53 ||50 ||29 ||69 ||53 ||78 ||70 |
|12 ||Products risk ||29 ||68 ||49 ||51 ||68 ||58 ||62 ||40 ||69 ||58 ||68 ||71 |
|8 ||Transplant unpermitted ||29 ||73 ||22 ||63 ||68 ||55 ||64 ||51 ||66 ||51 ||78 ||69 |
|7 ||Raise IQ ||32 ||54 ||28 ||47 ||53 ||43 ||43 ||52 ||49 ||37 ||72 ||49 |
|5 ||Abortion 2nd ||40 ||42 ||33 ||57 ||68 ||47 ||39 ||23 ||61 ||46 ||70 ||56 |
|4 ||Abortion 1st ||51 ||29 ||26 ||40 ||56 ||31 ||33 ||21 ||49 ||39 ||66 ||42 |
|14 ||Strike breakers ||62 ||21 ||19 ||34 ||31 ||22 ||30 ||23 ||24 ||24 ||54 ||37 |
|11 ||Products forced ||68 ||26 ||20 ||40 ||40 ||32 ||19 ||37 ||37 ||23 ||49 ||34 |
|3 ||Assist suicide ||71 ||26 ||29 ||44 ||36 ||35 ||27 ||30 ||26 ||26 ||73 ||36 |
|13 ||Non union ||81 ||10 ||13 ||26 ||29 ||14 ||17 ||34 ||18 ||13 ||54 ||18 |
|1 ||Coma permitted ||82 ||16 ||06 ||26 ||29 ||25 ||23 ||10 ||21 ||19 ||56 ||29 |
M. Thinking about this bothers me.
N. I get angry when I think about this.
Also question I was reworded: "The amount matters. It is more
wrong to allow twice as much to happen than to allow some to
The order of questions did affect the tendency to oppose the
actions (question A: 29% opposition with increasing opposition,
41% with decreasing, t=2.56, p=.013), but it did not affect
Protect, a composite based on all questions except E and F
(Posture). This result suggests that some opposition is not
based on protected values. Opposition was increased by
presenting the most objectionable actions first, but
protectedness was unaffected.
Unlike Experiment 1, females were higher in Protect than males
(t=2.52, p=.015) and also higher in their tendency to oppose
actions (t=3.87, p=.000). However, in a logistic regression
of sex on these two measures, only the latter was significant.
Hence, women are simply more opposed to this set of actions, but
given that they are opposed, their values are no more likely to
The main results of Experiment 1 were replicated, as shown in
Table 2. The new question I correlated negatively with H, so it
was reversed and combined with H to form the Quantity score. All
differences in the original items between Absolute and Opposed
were significant (p < .02 one tailed), including Agent, which did
not differ significantly in Experiment 1. Questions M (bother)
and N (anger), as well, significantly differed between Opposed
and Absolute (p < .0005 for Bother; p=.039, for Anger, one
tailed). We conclude (along with Tetlock et al., 1996) that
being angry about an action and bothered by thinking about it are
properties of protected values, along with the other properties.
3.3 Experiment 3
Experiment 3 used a different set of actions to examine the
robustness of some previous findings, particularly those
concerned with agent-relativity.
Thirty-nine subjects, solicited as in Experiment 1, completed a
questionnaire in which they answered 10 questions about each of
14 actions, in a table. The questionnaire began, "Below are
some actions that could be paid for by your nation's government,
with money collected from your taxes. They could also be carried
out by private corporations. For each action, please answer
questions A-N by writing Yes, No, or ? (not sure) in the blank
on the table. ...."
The questions were the same as Experiment 1 except as follows:
C. There are no benefits from allowing it, in fact.
H. You have two choices:
1. This will happen 100 times.
2. This will happen 200 times.
Which choice is worse, or are they equally bad? (Answer 1, 2, or =.)
I. [Same as J in Experiment 1, Moral.]
J. [Same as K, Moral.]
[K was inadvertently misworded and is omitted from this report.]
L. The government should not pay for this from tax money of those
who disapprove of it.
M. You have an option to buy stock in a company that does this.
Another buyer will buy the stock if you don't. This is the last
share of a special offer, so your decision does not affect the
price of the stock. Is it wrong for you to buy the stock?
The actions were:
1. Doctors causing the death of comatose patients who will never
recover, with permission of the patient's family.
2. Doctors causing the death of comatose patients who will never
recover, against the wishes of the patient's family.
3. Doctors assisting in the suicide of a consenting terminally
4. Aborting normal fetuses in the first three months of
5. Aborting normal fetuses in the second three months of pregnancy.
6. Aborting normal fetuses in the last three months of pregnancy.
7. Raising the IQ of normal children by giving them (completely
8. Taking organs from people who have just died, for
transplantation into other people, against the wishes of the dead
9. Cutting down forests for wood in a way that results in the
extinction of plant and animal species forever.
10. Fishing in a way that leads to the painful death of dolphins.
11. Selling products for profit made by the forced labor of
12. Selling products for profit made by workers exposed to
hazardous chemicals that increase their risk of cancer.
13. Selling products for profit made by non-union labor.
14. Selling products for profit made by strike breakers.
Table 3 shows the mean scores of items, and Table 2 shows the
differences among value categories. Of primary interest were
three new questions, described here according to their position
in Table 2.
Quantity. Question H assessed quantity sensitivity more
directly than previous questions. The new Quantity (scored as 1
when quantity did not matter, 1 when 200 times was worse than
100, and missing otherwise) did not distinguish Absolute and
Opposed significantly. It seems as though making the idea of
quantity insensitivity explicit by using numbers, in contrast to
the items used in Experiments 1 and 2, reduced the correlations
with other properties of protected values. However, subjects
were slightly more willing to ignore quantity in Absolute than in
Opposed, despite the fact that they were in fact significantly
(p=.010, two tailed) more sensitive to quantity in Opposed than
Not opposed, presumably because quantity really is irrelevant
when no opposition is present. Possibly, the weak results for
this item resulted from ambiguity about its meaning: the
Denial. Question C assessed denial of tradeoffs. It
clearly distinguished Absolute from Opposed, as did previous
Moral. The Moral items were endorsed more often for Absolute
than for Opposed, but the difference was not significant here, as
it had been for the same items in Experiments 1 and 2.
Agent. Questions L and M assessed agent-relativity. Table
2 (Agent) shows the results for M, the stock-purchase item,
because this is the clearest item for distinguishing personal
involvement from consequences. The consequences are the same
because the share will be bought in any case. Item M (about
stock purchase) distinguished Absolute and Opposed (p=.007) as
did item L (about paying from tax money of opponents, p=.037),
although item D (the original item about obligation to stop one's
own government) did not. The results for item M clearly support
the relation between absolute values and agent relativity.
3.4 Experiment 4
Experiment 4 took a closer look at insensitivity to quantity. In
Experiments 1-3, many subjects said that quantity would not
matter, but we wanted to find out whether subjects would really
show complete insensitivity. We used a procedure based loosely
on contingent valuation, with a single value from Experiment 1,
the use of genetic engineering to raise IQ. (See Agar, 1995, for
discussion of this action.) Subjects indicated their attitude
toward raising IQ by indicating whether they would accept a
reduction in medical costs in order to allow it and whether they
would even pay an increase in order to see it done. We call
these WTA (willingness to accept) and WTP (willingness to pay),
In order to manipulate protectedness, we compared two conditions
differing in deviation from normality. In a Low condition, IQ
was raised from 75 to 100. This could be seen as a treatment for
retardation. In the High condition, IQ was raised from 100 to
125. The Low condition creates or restores normality and the
High condition takes the person away from normality, hence,
interferes more with nature, perhaps violating a protected value
against interference with nature (Spranca, 1992). Alternatively,
this factor may be understood in terms of egalitarianism: help
those worse off before helping those better off. This principle
could also be protected.
The Low-High manipulation was crossed with a manipulation of why
the IQ was to be raised. In the Human condition, IQ had been
made 25 points lower as a result of exposure to pollution caused
by humans. In the Nature condition, IQ differences were simply
the result of natural variation.
Subjects were 93 students solicited and paid as in Experiment 1
for completing a questionnaire.
The questionnaire began, "U.S. residents all pay for each
other's medical care, both through insurance payments and through
taxes (which fund Medicare, Medicaid, and other government
programs). Suppose that the average person in the U.S. pays
$3,000 per year for medical care, though all sources. (If you
are not a U.S. resident, imagine that you are.) The following
cases are made up, but some day they could be real." One form
began with the Low Natural condition, which read as follows:
"1. Certain natural genetic defects that cause mental retardation
can be detected by tests performed early in pregnancy. If found,
an artificially produced gene can be inserted into the fetal
tissue through a surgical procedure that is relatively easy and
safe. The gene increases average IQ from 75 (retarded) to 100
"A. Suppose that 10 out of 10,000 people could be helped in
Would you be willing to pay extra in order to make this procedure
available to all who wanted it? (Circle one.) YES NO
If YES, what is the most you would be willing to pay?
Would you be willing to allow this to be done if you and
others saved money for health costs? YES NO
If you would be willing to allow it, what is the least that you
would have to save per year in order to allow it? $
B. Suppose that 1 out of 10,000 people could be helped in
The High Natural condition, which came next, began, "Children
expected to have normal IQ can have their IQ increased. A test
for normal IQ is done early in pregnancy. If the test is
positive, an artificially produced gene can be inserted into the
fetal tissue through a surgical procedure that is relatively easy
and safe. The gene increases average IQ from 100 (normal) to 125
The Low Human condition began, "Certain genetic defects are
found to result from exposure to pollution. The pollution is no
longer produced, but what was produced before will remain in the
environment for centuries and cannot be cleaned up. These
defects can be detected by tests performed early in pregnancy.
[The rest was identical to the Low Natural condition.]"
The High Human condition began, "Pollution is found to cause
certain genetic defects that lower the IQ of whose who would be
well above average. The pollution is no longer produced, but
what was produced before will remain in the environment for
centuries and cannot be cleaned up. A test for these defects can
be done early in pregnancy. [The rest was identical to the High
Half of the subjects did the four conditions in the opposite
order, and, for these subjects, the order of the WTP and WTA
questions ("pay" and "allow," respectively) were reversed as
As expected, many subjects would not accept any amount in the
High conditions, especially in the High Nature condition.
Conversely, most subjects were willing to pay something in the
Low conditions, and the cause of the low IQ did not matter. In
those subjects who answered numerically, insensitivity to
quantity was more prevalent in the High conditions. (Order of
presentation had no effect.)
Many subjects answered both WTA and WTP questions affirmatively.
We interpreted this to mean that they were willing to pay
something, but, of course, they would also be willing to accept
something if it were offered. Thus, we counted WTP in these
cases and ignored WTA. We coded the responses in terms of WTP,
using negative values for what the subject was willing to accept
when she was unwilling to pay anything. If subjects answered
"no" to both questions, we coded that as an extreme negative
number for purposes of ranking responses. This represents
unwillingness to trade off the violation of a value with monetary
Table 4 classifies responses by condition, based on the response
to the high-quantity condition (10 out of 10,000). In the Low
conditions, most subjects were willing to pay something. A
Wilcoxon test comparing Human vs. Nature in these conditions
(using the responses coded as described above) was not
significant. Thus, raising low IQ is generally acceptable
whatever its cause. All other differences among conditions were
significant at p=.000 by Wilcoxon tests. Thus, raising IQ
above normal is unacceptable to many subjects, and few subjects
are willing to pay for it. However, this is especially true when
the IQ is naturally normal; when IQ is reduced by human
pollution, then more people are willing to pay to raise it.
WTA and WTP for genetic repair, Experiment 4.
To assess quantity effects, we classified each subject as showing
an effect or not in the direction of higher WTP for more children
helped (10 vs. 1 out of 10,000). Subjects who were unwilling to
accept anything in both quantity conditions (10 and 1)
were counted as missing data.
Table 5 shows the number of subjects showing an effect, no
effect, or missing, in each of the four conditions. Because of
the large number of missing data in High Nature, we tested the
hypothesis by comparing the proportion of High cases showing
sensitivity to quantity (excluding missing data) to the
proportion of Low cases. (The proportions for each condition
were thus 0, .5, or 1.) High showed a significantly smaller
proportion of quantity effects than Low (p=.017 one tailed
Wilcoxon test). Because we assume that the High conditions
involve protected values in many subjects, this result supports
the hypothesis that protected values are associated with
insensitivity to quantity.
|No ||WTA ||WTP ||WTP |
|amount || > 0 || = 0 || > 0 |
|Low Nature ||8.7% ||13.0% ||4.3% ||73.9% |
|High Nature ||47.8% ||15.2% ||5.4% ||30.4% |
|Low Human ||7.6% ||9.8% ||3.3% ||79.3% |
|High Human ||21.7% ||24.0% ||5.4% ||48.9% |
Numbers of subjects showing a quantity effect or not in each
condition, Experiment 4.
|missing ||no effect ||effect |
|Low Nature ||8 ||30 ||54 |
|High Nature ||44 ||19 ||29 |
|Low Human ||7 ||31 ||54 |
|High Human ||18 ||35 ||39 |
3.5 Experiment 5
Experiment 5 examines sensitivity to quantity in another way,
specifically, sensitivity to the probability of success of
programs to save endangered species. Deontological obligations
to save species would not be sensitive to the probability of
Fifty-eight subjects, solicited as in Experiment 1, were given a
questionnaire, which began, "The Endangered Species Act requires
a plan to save each endangered species. These plans often
interfere with economic development, so they end up costing
money. Imaging you live in a region that will be affected by
each of the following plans. For each plan, indicate the most
you would be willing to pay in increased prices for goods and
services, in percent, for a five-year period. You may use
fractions or decimals. Say zero if you would not be willing to
pay anything. Answer each one of the four subcases (A-D) as if
it were the only possible plan." The four subcases involved,
respectively: success probability of 0 without the plan and .25
with it; 0 without and .75 with; .50 without and .75 with; and
.75 without and 1.00 with. (Half the subjects did these in the
The six cases were:
1. A species of tree is endangered because too much of it was cut
down to make farms. It is useless for wood, but it is unique.
No other trees are like it. It cannot be cultivated outside of
its natural habitat.
2. A species of tree is endangered in your region because too
much of it was cut down to make farms. It is useful for wood and
valued as an ornamental tree. Because it is valued, it has
already been preserved in many arboretums, and it can be
3. A species of squirrel is endangered because too many trees were cut
down to make farms.
4. A species of dolphin is endangered because too many dolphins
were strangled in nets used to catch tuna.
5. A species of tuna is endangered because it has been
overfished. People like to eat it.
6. A species of tuna is endangered because its natural predators
have become more numerous. People like to eat it.
The order of these cases was reversed for half of the subjects.
Finally, to measure the extent to which subjects had protected
values for each species, each subject answered the following
(yes, no, or not sure [treated as missing data]) for each of the
B. We should save this species even if there are no tangible
benefits to people.
F. Really no price is too high to save a species like this.
Other questions measuring other aspects of protected values were
also included, but, although they correlated with these questions
as they should, they were not analyzed further.
Protected values were again correlated with insensitivity to
quantity. And most of the questions about protected values
correlated with each other. (There was no effect of order or
Across the six cases, the mean answers to the four subcases were,
respectively: 13% increase (for 0 to 25% change in
probability); 25% (for 0 to 75%); 18% (50% to 75%); and 20%
(75% to 100%). All differences were significant (p < .005 by t
test across subjects) except that between the last two
conditions. Subjects seemed more concerned with the final
probability after the program was put into effect, rather than
the change in probability from before to after. They were also
somewhat sensitive to the change, however, as indicated by the
greater WTP for the 0-75% change.
Sensitivity to quantity was defined for each species as the log
of the ratio of WTP for the 0-75 change to the mean WTP of the
0-25 and 50-75 changes, divided by log(3) so that proportional
sensitivity would have a value of 1. The mean sensitivity
(averaged across items, then across subjects) was 0.58 (s.d.,
0.31). A protected-value score for each species was defined as
the mean of questions B and F. The mean of this score was 0.60
(s.d., 0.30). The correlation between sensitivity and the
protected-value score was computed for each subject across the
six items. The mean of this correlation was -.16 (p=.008, t
test across subjects). Although significant, the measure of this
correlation was small. It is clear that many other factors
affect sensitivity to quantity. Still, the present experiment
supports previous experiments in finding a small but significant
relationship between insensitivity and protectedness.
4 General discussion
We hypothesized that five properties would correlate with
absoluteness, the defining property of protected values: quantity
insensitivity, agent relativity, moral obligation, denial of
tradeoffs, and anger. These properties followed from the
assumption that protected values derive from deontological
prohibitions of action rather than values for consequences. We
found these correlations.
Posturing could not account fully for these effects. In
particular, they were present even when it was impossible for
subjects to communicate which values they were responding to
(although subjects could communicate a general tendency toward
absolute values). So the tendency to hold protected values
appears to exist apart from concerns about self-presentation with
respect to particular values.
Experiments 1, 2, 4 and 5 supported the hypothesis that protected
values contribute to quantity insensitivity. Value measurements
are often insensitive to the quantity of the good being valued
(Baron, 1997; Baron & Greene, 1996; Diamond et al., 1993;
Jones-Lee et al., 1995; Kahneman & Knetsch, 1992; McFadden,
1994). For example many people will pay no more to save three
wilderness areas than they would pay to save one (McFadden,
1994). The same insensitivity is found in judgments of
willingness to accept (Baron & Greene, 1996), so the problem is
not just one of budget constraints. We suggest that such
insensitivity is more likely when it involves protected values -
assuming that people are willing to oblige the researcher by
answering the questions - because such values concern the acts
involved rather than their consequences. Very likely, however,
such values are not the only cause of insensitivity. (Baron &
Greene, 1996, suggest others.)
Quantity insensitivity creates problems for value measurement
because most social decisions are repeated. Those willing to pay
$10 to save one wilderness area might be expected to be willing
to do this more than once. So they would be willing to pay about
$30 to save three. This would conflict with a stated value of
$10 for three. (Baron & Greene, 1996, give other examples of
The strong relation between Absoluteness and Denial suggests that
people want to have their non-utilitarian cake and eat it too.
They understand that commitment to protected values could make
overall consequences worse in some sense. Rather than simply
rejecting their competing, utilitarian intuitions, they deny that
this is needed. Perhaps this is true more generally of
commitment to deontological rules, absolute or not.
Other properties that we did not examine might also characterize
protected values. Irwin (1994) has found that the ratio of
willingness to accept to willingness to pay is greater for
environmental goods than for consumer goods. She suggested that
environmental goods are seen as moral. This difference may
result from the belief that taking money to allow immorality is
itself immoral. This may be more true of protected values, but
it may also be true of moral values in general.
Another implication that we did not test is that protected values
should distinguish acts and omissions. Protected values are
absolute prohibitions on certain actions. If people tried to
follow corresponding prohibitions against omissions that led to
the same results, then people would have infinite obligations.
Protected values thus depend on the omission-commission
distinction. Individuals and situations differ considerably in
whether this distinction is relevant to moral judgments or not
(Baron, 1992, 1994; Baron & Ritov, 1994; Ritov & Baron, 1990;
Spranca et al., 1991). Our theory implies that it will be made
more often when protected values are involved.5
We have suggested that protected values are a subset of moral
values. This idea may have biased our selection of actions. It
may be possible to find nonmoral values that are also protected.
4.1 Origin of protected values
Why do people have protected values? Several reasons come to
mind. Some explanations may be true, or partially true, but
insufficient. One of these is self-enhancement. Most people
will feel better about themselves knowing that they have a few
protected values. Having protected values is a source of
self-identity (Williams, 1981). This is true when a culture
endorses the idea of "integrity" as a matter of sticking up for
certain values. But where do members of a culture get the idea
that integrity is a matter of simple adherence to one value at
the expense of others? That is why this explanation, while
possibly true, is insufficient.
The same can be said of impression management. For the same
reason having protected values enhances one's image to oneself,
it enhances one's image in the eyes of others. Politicians are
keenly aware of this. To treat a protected value like a
compensatory value is political suicide (Tetlock et al., 1996).
Yet, if holding protected values makes a good impression, some
people must already think of them as admirable.
Holding protected values may increase persuasive power. Many
activists believe that they are more likely to achieve their
activist goals if they take a hard negotiating stance. Using the
rhetoric of protected values makes it easier to justify using
hard bargaining strategies. Politicians are aware of this too.
Part of this effect is related to impression management. Another
part is simply that statements of protected values are the
hardest bargaining position that one can take. Our results
suggest that the effort to be persuasive is both real and
separate from other determinants of protected values. It may be
part of their source, but, once started, they seem to take on a
life of their own.
Ultimately, the explanation of protected values may lie
elsewhere. Two aspects must be explained. One is their
absoluteness. The other is their emphasis on action. We have
already discussed (in the Introduction) the emphasis on action,
and why we think that consequentialist values are not absolute.
But we have not said why people adopt absolute rules of action in
the first place.
One possibility is that protected values are adopted
intentionally and knowingly as rigid, inviolable prescriptive
rules. Such prescriptive rules - such as "do not lie under
oath" - are best to follow in practice even though one might
imagine situation in which, if one accepted all the assumptions
without question, it would be best to break the rule. People
might want such rules to be followed absolutely because they may
have good reason to believe that tradeoffs, once allowed, will
not be honestly made. For example, experience with past abuses
- such as the Nazis' use of eugenic arguments - may lead people
to think that it is better never to allow something, such as
eugenics, than to try to calculate when the benefits exceed the
costs. People may adopt such rules because they mistrust others
or themselves. People can imagine some hypothetical
situation in which a tradeoff might be allowed, but, as a
practical matter, they think that allowing tradeoffs would be too
risky and that, if they tried to recognize such situations, they
would make too many misses and too many false positives. When
people are asked about their values, they may reasonably rely on
their practical principle rather than on their imagination, since
they may distrust potential users of the information they
provide, including themselves.
This view of rules as coldly calculated devices for control of
self and others is inconsistent with the emotionality we found to
be associated with protected values. It seems more likely that
such prescriptive rules - regardless of whether they are
rationally justifiable in the way just described - take on a
life of their own (Hare, 1981). After all, parents and other
moral educators typically teach such practical rules without
saying whether they are absolute or not. More generally, even if
some people understand the rationale just described, they may
fail to convey this rationale when they transmit the rules to
others. The rules become detached from their justifications.
Even when circumstances change so that the rationale - if it was
ever valid - is no longer valid, the rule may still be blindly
applied (Baron, 1994). Thus, restoring trust in the ability to
make some tradeoff would not immediately change a protected value
into a compensatory one.
We note, however, that our studies did not specifically ask
subjects if they could imagine situations in which they would be
willing to compromise their values. This would be worthy of
Absolute values, whatever their initial origin, may also appeal
to a preference for cognitive simplicity in decision making. It
is probably easier to make decisions if we have a few protected
values to constrain decision making. Of course, protected values
held for this purpose are prescriptive heuristics at best. If
people come to hold protected values for this reason, they are
elevating rules of thumb into absolutes without adequate reason.
They may do this because they have acquired from their culture a
concept of moral rules as being like laws, that is, constraints
on action that should never be violated.
Alternatively, absolute prohibitions may be at first only
temporary phenomena that result from a kind of experience in
which one of two competing perceptions becomes dominant
and prevents the alternative being noticed, leading to excessive
confidence that the alternative is absent (Margolis, 1987).
Thus, when faced with a choice between competing harms, one of
the harms might become dominant and prevent a person from
thinking that the other one is important too. This is especially
so when one of the harms results from action. And it is
especially so when the options and their results are outside the
range of normal experience, where people will have made many
choices that sacrificed each of the two competing values. It is
possible that such perceptual dominance occurs when subjects
confront valuation questions for the first time, but it is also
possible that one side or the other has become habitual as a
result of prior repetition.
What are the practical implications of our conclusions for value
measurement and social decision making? Value measurement is
typically done by policy analysts who are concerned with the
utility of consequences. They want to know how people value
various consequences, so that they can recommend a policy that
maximizes utility. When they question respondents about values,
they do not yet know what policies they will recommend, what
actions they will ask governments or other institutions to take.
If we are correct about the nature of protected values, however,
the respondents impose on the value measures some imagined means
of producing the consequence, and their stated value for the
consequence is contaminated by their value for the imagined means
of achieving it. Sometimes this value takes the form of an
absolute moral prohibition. Protected values are thus a monkey
wrench thrown into the works. They are not about consequences,
but rather about the participation of respondents in imagined
actions. That is not what the policy analysts need to know, for
they need to compare different ways of producing similar
outcomes. Respondents' hypotheses about how they would
participate might be incorrect.
Practical solutions to this problem must await further research.
Perhaps one direction to explore is to separate elicited values
into those involving "means" and those involving "ends"
(Keeney, 1992). This may help respondents, along with further
encouragement from analysts, to think about their values for
consequences (ends) separately from the values connected with
their own participation, since they would have a chance to
express those separately.
Another direction is to teach respondents that some prescriptive
rules are absolute only because of the practical difficulty of
applying compensatory rules. If respondents understand this,
then they may be willing to express values as compensatory in
hypothetical situations even when they would not be willing to
advocate tradeoffs in real situations.
The remaining problem of how societies should respond to
protected values concerning means is a serious one. For example,
we might think that people who place extreme value on not
participating in some activity should be excused from paying
taxes to fund that activity. However, such a policy would
provide incentive for people to say that they had such values
even if they did not. It may be that societies simply cannot
take all such values into account.
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1This research was supported by
N.S.F. grant SBR92-23015. We thank Barbara Gault, Howard
Margolis, and Carol Nickerson for comments. Send correspondence
to Jonathan Baron, Department of Psychology, University of
Pennsylvania, 3815 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-6196, or
2Technically, this amounts to a form of
Archimedian axiom (Krantz, Luce, Suppes, & Tversky, 1971).
3This is analogous to, and perhaps a cause of,
Andreoni's (1990) "warm glow" (also Margolis's (1982) theory of
4Three subjects were more likely to say
"yes" to B and C when they said "yes" to A than when they
said "no." We reversed the answer to A for these subjects.
Results were essentially the same with many other analyses that
did not depend on this reversal. We also did this for three
subjects in Experiment 2 and two in Experiment 3. In addition,
in Experiments 1 and 2, we omitted individual items when B and C
5In as yet
unpublished work Ritov and Baron have found support for this
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