Protected values in Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States

Christine S. Lim and Jonathan Baron[+]
University of Pennsylvania


Protected values are values that resist tradeoffs with other values, particularly economic values. We examined the nature and prevalence of protected values in Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States. All three cultures showed the hypothesized properties of protected values: absoluteness, insensitivity to quantity of the violation, agent relativity of concern, denial of the need for tradeoffs, moral obligation to follow the values, and anger at their violation. Protected values did not appear to result from posturing or from simple strength of feeling. The twenty values examined were loosely classified as Rights, Preference for Nature, Environment, and Personal. Hypotheses about cultural differences in these categories were not supported, although the pattern of which values were protected differed among the three cultures. Parents' education, degree of acculturation to Western culture, religion, and race had no effect on the prevalence of protectedness or on the issues that were protected. However, American women had more protected values than men.


Protected values are a particular type of value that is perhaps best illustrated in the following way: Imagine that you were asked how many animal species should be allowed to die each year from extinction and under what circumstances. You say none at all, and under no circumstances. You say we should do everything we can to save species from extinction. This response is one that is typical for a value that is protected. Protected values are values that resist tradeoffs with other values, particularly economic values (Baron and Spranca, 1997). They are well-intentioned but create problems for entities, such as government agencies, that try to allocate scarce resources among public goods by taking into account the value of the goods. If the entire national budget is spend saving species, someone else's protected values are doubtless left unsatisfied. These problems may affect attempts to measure monetary values for public goods, such as judgments of willingness to pay for a good or accept money for its loss (Mitchell and Carson, 1989). Particularly when people are asked what they will accept for a loss, many refuse to give any amount of money (e.g., Easterling and Kunreuther, 1995; Frey et al., 1996).

Many theorists defend the refusal to make tradeoffs. Protected values are analogous to ``blocked exchanges,'' discussed by Andre (1992), which are things that cannot be bought or sold - for example, criminal justice. Schwartz (1986) argues that certain practices should be inviolable and not compromised by tradeoffs with anything else - for example, academic standards. However, Jervis (1976) explains avoidance of value tradeoffs as irrational consistency in people's belief structures. People tend toward consistency of beliefs so that all good elements go together, all bad elements go together, and all relations between good and bad elements are negative. According to Jervis (1976), irrational consistency often leads to a policy that fails to reach any goals because it attempts to reach too many, resources are spread too thin, and contradictions go unrecognized. The prevalence of protected values means that it is important to try to understand how these responses and values exist. Then we can create better tools to elicit preferences for effective decision-making by understanding the underlying dynamic.

Baron & Spranca (1997) suggest that protected values arise out of deontological rules about action rather than outcomes. Therefore, people with protected values probably think about situations in terms of general rules about decisions or behavior (for example, do not kill, do not harm the environment). Several properties of protected values follow from this proposal, and previous research has found evidence for these properties (Baron & Spranca, 1997; Irwin & Scattone, 1996). In the present study, we ask whether these properties are found in Malaysia and Singapor as well as the U.S., and whether they occur to the same extent when values are protected.

1. Absoluteness.

The defining characteristic of protected values is absoluteness. People refuse to make tradeoffs with protected values, especially for money. Baron and Spranca's (1997) results suggest that this absoluteness is not merely because subjects exaggerate the strength of their beliefs (posturing), nor does it arise from simplifying heuristics (such as deciding never to lie just because it is too difficult to decide when lying is acceptable). Protected values are treated like commitments, not just rules to save time or effort. In this study, the response ``This should not be allowed under any circumstances,'' is used as a test of absoluteness.

2. Quantity insensitivity.

Judgments of willingness to pay are often insensitive to the quantity of the good measured. For example, the worth of two goods together tends to be less than the sum of the worth of the separate goods (Irwin & Scattone, 1996). McFadden's (1994) found that people will pay no more to save three wilderness areas than they would pay to save one. It is not a problem of budgetary constraints because people are just as insensitive to quantity in their willingness to accept (Baron & Green, 1996). People are not only insensitive to real amounts of goods or money but to the probability of occurrence, therefore a 1 in 100 chance is seen to be similar to a 1 in 10 despite the difference in magnitude of 10. The hypothesis is that people are more quantity insensitive with protected values than in other situations because such values involve acts rather than consequences. This is similar to paying the same for one and three wilderness areas even though saving three areas would have three times greater an effect than paying for one, and ignoring the probabilities of occurrence. In this study, we define quantity insensitivity by disagreement with ``It is worse if twice as many people do this than if only a few do. (If you disagree, it means that you think it is equally as bad for a few people to do this as for twice as many people to do this).''

3. Agent relativity.

Values are agent relative when participation is important rather than the consequences. According to Nagel (1986), if it is a reason for anyone to do or want something includes an essential reference to that person, then it is an agent-relative reason, whereas if the reason can be given in a general form which does not include an essential reference to the person who has it, it is an agent-neutral reason. For example, people with protected values about child labor may be against buying goods from countries that use child labor as one of their values, even if refusal to buy the goods makes the situation worse by increasing poverty. At least the increased poverty does not result from the action of the refuser.

Baron and Spranca (1997) defined agent relativity in terms of agreement with several different statements in different experiments, and the results were consistent with the hypothesis that protected values were agent relative:
1. 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 governments.
2. The government should not pay for this from tax money of those who disapprove of it.
3. 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?
In this study, we define agent-relativity as agreement with: ``It is wrong to own any investment in a company or government that does this.''

4. Moral obligation.

Protected values are seen as moral values, in the sense that they are universal and objective, not just conventions or personal preferences. People who hold protected values feel that everyone has an obligation to do something even if they think they do not. The hypothesis that protected values are seen as moral obligations are tested by the statements, ``This would be wrong even in a country where everyone thought it would be fine,'' and ``People have an obligation to try to stop this even if they think they do not.''

Some people outside the U.S. may not distinguish convention from morality. Shweder, Mahapatra, and Miller found that few subjects in a Hindu village in India distinguished morality and convention (1988). Miller, Bersoff, and Harwood (1990) found that Indian subjects tended to regard the failure to aid another in moral terms in all conditions, in contrast to Americans who tended to view it in moral terms only in life-threatening cases or parents responding to their children's moderately serious needs. Haidt, Koller and Dias (1993) found that subjects of low social economic status, especially Brazilian subjects, also rarely distinguished morality and convention, regarding such acts as eating a dog killed by a car as universally wrong. If non-American subjects do not distinguish much between moral and conventional, a possible result in this study is that they may be more likely to have protected values or to respond in the affirmative to the two statements about moral obligation. Furthermore, subjects of different socioeconomic classes may respond differently. We note, however, that all our subjects are educated, and Haidt et al. found that education was the greatest determinant of distinguishing convention from morality.

5. Denial.

Ignoring discrepant information or assimilating it to preexisting beliefs is a common result of the need for consistency in one's beliefs (Baron, in press; Jervis, 1976). We propose that people with protected values might explain other people's non-protectedness by others' self-interest. (Tetlock, 1997, makes a similar suggestion.) If people feel that their values are universal obligations, they must find some way of explaining disagreement. Those who disagree must either be illogical or self-interested. That is, people who do not protect certain values are acting in their self-interest because they have a stake in seeing that the value is not protected. For example, people who defend logging virgin forests might either own stock in a logging company or want to keep the price of wood low for whatever reason. This hypothesis is tested by the statement, ``People who say that anyone needs to do this are really just looking out for their own self-interest.''

6. Anger.

People may become more angry about the violation of a protected value because it is seen as a moral value rather than as personal preference. Tetlock et al. (1995), and Baron and Spranca (1997) conclude that being angry about an action and being bothered by thinking about it are properties of protected values. In this paper, we measure being bothered by the statement ``I feel strongly about this,'' and anger by the statement, ``Thinking about this issue makes me angry,'' on a 7-point scale.

Country Background


Malaysia achieved its independence from the British in 1957. At the time, its economy was racially fragmented by the British. The Chinese (currently 32%) were concentrated in the major towns which were built around the tin mines, the Malays and other indigenous tribes (59%) were mostly farmers and fishermen in the rural areas, and the Indians (9%) worked predominantly in the rubber and palm oil estates or in security forces. The new government's efforts to build national unity and identity, such as the increasing use of Malay language in public life, were resented by many non- Malays. They were further more disturbed by the government's policies to redistribute more wealth to the Malays and a growing Islamic revival. These racial tensions erupted into riots following a heated election and the nation was in the state of emergency from 1969 to 1970.

The New Economic Policy (NEP), launched in 1971, is in its 26th year as the New Development Policy. The NEP was to greatly increase Malay wealth and economic potential, and has been mostly successful. Poverty rates have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years but large pockets of urban and rural poverty persist. Malaysian employment rates and labor costs have risen so much that in a country of approximately 20 million, there are now approximately 2 million legal and illegal immigrant labor population from countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Bangladesh to fill the labor shortage. These immigrant laborers usually work for lower wages and benefits than Malaysians.

From time to time, there have been Islamic fundamentalist revivals, most recently in the early 1990s when there was a movement to impose the Muslim law on all Malaysians whereas it had previously applied only to Muslims. The government has been careful to balance racial interests although national elections tend to be campaigned along racial lines. The ruling party Barisan Nasional (National Front) is itself composed of three major racial parties - United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) - and 10 other smaller parties.

In general, Malaysia is a democracy, and is politically stable. Its political stability is sometimes attributed to the fact that radical critics of the government (including communists, socialists, Islamic militants, and progressive intellectuals) were politically marginalized or sometimes detained without trial. Its fast-growing economy has so far subsumed most racial and political tensions as all the races have had a share of the economic pie. Malaysians are free to practice major religions and celebrate cultural festivals. Although increasing urbanization has also brought with it increasing Westernization, most Malaysians still hold to their ethnic cultural practices and most people practice or identify with some form of religion.


Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia when it was formed in 1963, along with Sabah and Sarawak that are in Northern Borneo. It seceded from Malaysia in 1965 (at the invitation of the Malaysian government) because of increasing friction between the mostly Malay federal leaders and the mostly Chinese state leaders, especially Singapore's independent-minded chief minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who disagreed on national goals. Under Prime Minister Lee's and his successor Goh Chok Tong's autocratic direction and freewheeling economic policies, Singapore has become a highly prosperous but tightly controlled city-state. It now surpasses Japan in purchasing power parity (PPP) income per capita and the quality of life is comparable to any industrialized nation. The culture fosters elitism but opportunity and excellent universities are accessible to all who qualify. As a result of the emphasis on merit, and the example by the government that is led by intellectual elites, Singapore is known to be one of the least corrupt countries in Asia. Singapore also prides itself on its Confucian values of respect for learning, authority, and family.

Singapore is predominantly ethnic Chinese (77%). 15% of the population of close to 3 million are Malay, 6% Indian and 2% other races including Eurasians. The ruling government has been in power since 1963 and is greatly involved in all aspects of Singaporeans' lives. Singaporeans joke about the many campaigns - against littering, chewing gum, encouraging its population to flush its toilets, and to be courteous - but the campaigns are an earnest effort to improve the quality of life. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced in his National Day Rally speech in August that unwed mothers would no longer qualify for government- subsidized housing and that women civil servants would not gain medical benefits for their families in line with his ``pro- family'' policies in which the husband is the ``primary provider''.

Singapore also has an Internal Security Act (ISA) as does Malaysia, which allows for detention without trial. Opposition to the government is closely scrutinized for libel, and the International Herald Tribune once paid damages for suggesting that ``dynastic politics is evident in `communist' China already, as in Singapore, despite official commitments to bureaucratic meritocracy.'' Although the free practice of religion is allowed, Jehovah's Witnesses are illegal as are other groups that the government considers cults such as the Church of Scientology.

Cross-cultural differences

Protected values seem to exist in many religions, and Malaysians generally identify themselves as believing in a religion. But it is of interest to ask whether protected values are found in cultures other than those of the U.S. The U.S. has traditionally been identified with rights and activism so we were interested if people in other countries also felt as strongly about certain issues, and were merely not as expressive. Malaysia and Singapore multiracial Asian countries, which means that the findings can probably be generalized somewhat to Islamic, South Asian, and Confucian cultures. Singapore also used to be part of Malaysia and many Singaporeans originated from Malaysia so we would not expect that their cultures to be very different. However, Singapore's purchasing power parity (PPP) income per capita is within 10 percent of the U.S.'s so we can somewhat control for wealth. Singapore as it is more homogeneous than Malaysia.

Previous cross-cultural research suggests dimensions on which countries differ. Hofstede's (1980) study of two sets (1968 and 1972) of paper-and-pencil survey results from personnel of an American multinational company and questionnaire data from managers from unrelated companies participating in international management courses between 1971 and 1973 identified four dimensions of national culture that he labeled individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance.

Individualism-collectivism refers to the extent to which the identity of members of a given culture is shaped primarily by personal choices and achievements or by the groups to which they belong (Smith, Dugan, and Trompenaars, 1996). Individualism and collectivism are often equated with independent versus interdependent, agentic versus communal, and separate versus relational self-construals (Kashima, Yamaguchi, Kim, Choi, Gelfand, and Yuki, 1995). Individualism is captured by the ideas such as independent, autonomous, agentic, and separate from others (Kashima et al., 1995). According to Bochner (1994), collectivists, however, regard themselves as less differentiated from, and more connected with, other people, and will put much value on harmonious interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, collectivists are described as sensitive to the demands of their social context and more responsive to the assumed needs of others. They will avoid displaying and expressing emotions that disrupt harmony, such as anger (Bond, 1986). In Hofstede's (1980) study, the U.S. scored 91 on the country individualism index (IDV) whereas Singapore and Malaysia were on the other end of the scale at 20. Bochner's (1994) study likewise found that Malaysians show more group and fewer idiocentric self-descriptions than did the British and Australians whose countries had IDVs of 90 and 89 respectively. Kim (1995) suggests that liberalism and Confucianism are useful descriptive characterizations of individualism in America and collectivism in Asia. As a result, we may find that Americans would be more likely to respond affirmatively to the statement in our questionnaire, ``This is a private matter, and the government should not tell people what to do,'' and for Singaporeans and Malaysians to respond affirmatively to, ``People have an obligation to try to stop this even if they think they do not.''

Although Hofstede's distinction is widely accepted, Reykowski and Smolenska (1993) suggest that individualism and collectivism are not necessarily on one dimension. Their study confirms Triandis and his colleagues' (1988) earlier findings that collectivism and individualism were two separate orthogonal factors when these constructs were linked theoretically to hypothesized consequences. Reykowski and Smolenska (1993) used scales concerning subjects' normative beliefs about dispensation of resources, power, rights, and obligations in the state, community, at the workplace, and in the family. Their findings suggest that there is a third factor, receptive orientation, which contains beliefs that an individual should strive for their own advantage but the authorities (both the state and family) are obliged to care for the well-being of the individual. This factor may be useful in describing Singapore, which is very much a meritocracy and yet stresses the community. However, we did not explicitly test this factor in our study.

Masculinity versus femininity corresponds to competition, success, and performance-oriented cultures versus cultures that have more emphasis on warm social relationships, quality of life, and care of the weak (Hofstede, 1980). One inferred consequence, according to Hofstede (1980), is that more feminine countries take more environmental positions, whereas more masculine countries put more priority on economic growth. However, in Hofstede's (1980) study, the U.S. and Singapore appear quite close on the Masculinity scale and Malaysia is not mentioned so we make no predictions based on this construct.

Power distance is defined in terms of the prevailing norms of inequality within a culture. It is highly correlated with individualism/collectivism, which may mean that it is a manifestation of the same dimension. High uncertainty avoidance means that members of a culture prefer structured situations, where there are clear guidelines for behavior, to unstructured situations. This should correlate with a higher incidence of protected values, which are based on rules. Singapore was the lowest uncertainty avoidance country with a Country Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) of 8, and the U.S. had a score of 46 where the highest score was 112. Malaysia was not shown although many other Asian countries like the Philippines (44), India (40), and Hong Kong (29) were lower on the scale than the U.S., and Japan (92), Pakistan (70), Taiwan (69), and Thailand (64) were higher (Hofstede, 1980) so it was difficult to predict for Malaysia.

In a study similar to Hofstede's, the Chinese Culture Connection (1987) (the CCC) found four factors labeled integration, Confucian work dynamism, human-heartedness, and moral discipline, when respondents from 22 countries were asked to rate the importance of a domain of values derived from Chinese culture. Hofstede's power distance and individualism/collectivism dimensions, and the CCC integration and moral discipline factors loaded together in a second order factor analysis, which suggested that they were aspects of the same underlying dimension. A correlation of 0.67 was also reported between Hofstede's masculinity index and CCC's human-heartedness factor. It appears that a unique additional factor is Confucian work dynamism, which emphasizes Confucian work ethics such as thrift and persistence, but Hofstede's uncertainty-avoidance dimension was not approximated by CCC's factors. However, the importance of the CCC study for us is that it shows that Hofstede's measures that were derived from a very different culture than Malaysia's and Singapore's probably captured most of the dimensions of values in these Asian cultures. We did not explicitly test issues or questions that were related to Confucian work dynamism.



The study was run in Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S. over the spring, summer and fall of 1996. The Asian subjects were from prestigious universities, which insured that they were reasonably fluent in English.

The same form of the questionnaire was administered in English to students in all three countries. Four items on acculturation were added to questionnaires administered to the Malaysian and Singaporean subjects pertaining to foreign English language publications read, foreign English language television programs watched, foreign English language movies watched and everyday interactions in English. Table 1 shows the mean scores for these items as well as the demographics of the three groups.

Table 1.
Demographic data.

Malaysians Singaporean American
(N=58) (N=90) (N=66)
Age (mean) 19.8 20.5 19.1
Gender (% male) 47 42 41
Race (%)
Malay 20 3.3 0
Chinese 64 89 1.5
South Indian 16 6.7 17
Caucasian 58
African-American 7.6
Hispanic-American 0
Asian-American 12
Native-American 1.5
Other 0 1.1 1.5
Buddhist 32 13
Protestant 25 30 19
Muslim 19 5.6 6.2
Catholic 7.0 11 31
Hindu 7.0 1.1 15
Agnostic/Atheist/None 7.0 33 22
Sikh 1.8 2.2
Taoist 0 0 3.3
Jewish 0 0 7.7
Other 1.8
% of literature 2.55 2.12
% of TV programs 2.71 2.38
% of movies 2.88 3.13
% of daily interaction 2.78 3.32
Level of education
Father 2.85 3.14 4.71
Mother 2.55 2.42 4.32

Note: The last two variables were coded as follows: Acculturation: 0 0-20%; 1 21-40%; 2 41-60%; 3 61-80%;4 81-100%. Parents' Education Level: 0 None; 1 Primary/Elementary; 2 Secondary/High school; 3 Pre-university (A; 4 levels); 5 Diploma/Some college; 6 Bachelor's degree; 7 Master's/ MD (non-US); PhD/MD (US).

The 66 U.S. subjects were recruited through advertising at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (PCPS). A room in the Psychology lab building at Penn was open for selected hours a week, during which subjects could come in and fill out questionnaires for $6 per hour.

The 58 Malaysian subjects were from a private college (Kolej Sunway) and a public university (Universiti Malaya). Together, these samples were racially and economically representative of students in general. English is taught as a mandatory second language in primary and secondary school, and all classes at the Kolej Sunway are taught in English while some classes at University Malaya are in English and the texts are mostly in English. Bumiputera (indigenous Malays and aboriginal tribes) students are generally over-represented in public universities while non-Bumiputeras are generally over-represented in private colleges. Meanwhile, students at private colleges are generally more well off than at public universities, as is the case in the U.S. Although the non-Bumiputera subjects in this study are probably more well-off than the Bumiputera subjects, the non-Bumiputera subjects are more comparable in socioeconomic status to subjects at Penn, and the Bumiputera subjects to those from PCPS.

The students were paid five Malaysian ringgit (US$1=RM2.50) for each questionnaire. The rate was roughly based on the average hourly clerical rate in Malaysia. Questionnaires were given out to 60 people at both schools and were collected or dropped off by the students. The response rate at Kolej Sunway was 75%. At Universiti Malaya, the response rate was particularly low (25%) because the study was run two days before the university convocation, which was also the beginning of a one-week break. In addition to the festivities, participation may have been reduced by lack of English fluency and resulting comprehension difficulty. Most subjects took 45 to 60 minutes to complete the questionnaire.

The 90 Singaporean subjects were recruited from two halls of residence at a public university. (Both universities in Singapore are public and the students are socioeconomically diverse.) For the first hall, solicitation was done in a dining hall, and the sample of 32 was probably slightly more self-selected than the rest of the Singaporean sample. For the second hall of residence, solicitation was done in the dining hall during dinner, by approaching all individuals, and almost all Singaporeans agreed to complete the questionnaire. Subjects were paid five Singapore dollars (US$1=S$1.40). These subjects generally took 30 to 40 minutes to complete the questionnaire.

We disqualified subjects from the analysis of country effects if they had spent more than 5 years in another country other than their home country. As a result we dropped 2 Malaysian subjects, and 14 American subjects from analysis of group differences. These were not included in the numbers given earlier but were included in other analyses, to make a total of 230 subjects.


On the basis of a pilot study using 53 actions presented to 20 U.S. and 12 Malaysian subjects, we selected 20 for our questionnaire. Each action represents a value. We selected 5 actions for each of four categories: Rights (1-5), Nature (6-10), Environment (11-15), and Personal (16-20). We chose actions that both did and did not distinguish the two groups in the pilot study. The actions are shown in Table 2.

Table 2.
Actions, with percent protected in each country. < and > indicate significant differences by Fisher test. * indicates US differs from MAL.

1. Banning artistic works that are considered offensive by some people. 28 > 9 < 37
2. Paying the lowest possible wages and giving workers the fewest possible benefits, even though increasing their wages or benefits will relieve their suffering and hurt the company very little. 54 < 74

75 *
3. Profiting by doing business in countries which seriously violate human rights (as laid out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). 57 54 < 73
4. Admitting someone into a university because of their race. 68

81 > 62
5. Admitting someone into a university because of their gender. 72 76 > 59
6. Performing abortions of normal foetuses in the early stages of pregnancy. 37 > 17

7. Forcing women to have abortions when they have had too many children, for the purpose of population control. 51 42 < 65
8. Using gene therapy on foetuses in the womb to enhance traits of your choice, like intelligence or physical ability. 40 < 67 > 48
9. Raising the IQ of normal children by giving them (completely drugs. 39


10. Letting people sell their organs (for example, a kidney or an for whatever price they can command. 30 < 58 > 41
11. Destruction of natural forests by human activity, resulting in the extinction of plant and animal species. 68


12. Logging pristine (untouched) old-growth forests. 67


13. Exporting toxic waste to poorer countries. 80


14. Using explosives that damage coral reefs when fishing. 78

71 > 51 *
15. Fishing in a way that leads to the painful death of dolphins. 80 74 72
18. Putting parents in an institutional home in their old age against their will. 63

67 > 48
19. Spending more money on a son's education than a daughter's. 61 65 < 62

The questionnaire presented the actions and a list of the questions, and the subjects were instructed to fill in a table with the answers to each question for each action. The first two questions were:

1. How clearly do you understand this item (Choose one: a, b, or c):
a) Very clearly
b) Somewhat clearly
c) I'm not sure I understand this item at all.

2. Choose one: a, b, or c
a) I do not oppose this.
b) This should not be allowed unless the benefits are great enough.
c) This should not be allowed under any circumstances.

The second question measured absoluteness, and the third answer (c) was taken as the definition of a protected value.

The remaining questions are shown in Table 3, with the words in capitals by which we refer to the items. Subjects answered each question with ``agree,'' ``disagree,'' or ``not sure.'' PERSONAL and PRIVATE were not analyzed with respect to the main hypotheses. EXAGGERAGE concerned posturing. FEW and TWICE were meant to capture quantity insensitivity, although FEW also captures whether the value is absolute, so only TWICE was used as a test of this hypothesis. INVESTMENT tests agent-relativity. SELF-INTEREST tests denial. WRONG and OBLIGATION test morality. STRONG and ANGER tested emotionality.

Table 3.
Mean responses to questions as a function of answer to question about protected values (question 2), averaged first by item across all subjects, then across items. Numbers are proportions saying `yes', except for the last two questions, for which they are mean ratings on a 1-7 scale. All differences between adjacent numbers in each row are significantly different (across the 20 actions at p<.025 or better), except when marked with `='. (Words in capitals are for reference ans were not capitalized in the questionnaire.)

Not opposed Opposed Protected
I PERSONALly would not do this .63 .82 .92
This is a PRIVATE matter, and the government should not tell people what to do .56 .39 .29
In public discussions of this issue it is alright to EXAGGERATE the strength of one's opposition to this issue .43 = .43 .50
It would not be bad if only a FEW people did this .43 = .42 .14
It is worse if TWICE as many people do this than if only a few do .43 .50 .36
It is wrong to own any INVESTment in a company or government that does this .34 .51 .84
People who say that anyone needs to do this are really just looking out for their own SELF-INTEREST .60 = .60 .85
This would be WRONG even in a country where everyone thought it would be fine .40 .62 .87
People have an OBLIGATION to try to stop this even if they think they do not .36 .58 .83
I feel STRONGly about this issue 3.63 = 3.58 4.71
Thinking about this issue makes me ANGRY 3.29 = 3.25 4.29

We coded responses as missing if the subject was ``not sure at all'' about understanding the action (Question 1) or if the subject answered ``not sure'' to the particular question.

Results and discussion

Out of all actions, 4.6% of the responses were missing (not understood or omitted), 12.0% were ``not opposed,'' 28.8% were opposed (but not absolutely), and 54.5% were protected (opposed absolutely, on the basis of question 2). The proportion of protected responses did not differ significantly among the three countries. These results support our selection of actions as ones that would evoke protected values in all three groups.

Although the countries did not differ, subjects varied considerably in their proportion of protected responses. Nine subjects (3 Malaysians, 5 Singaporeans, 1 American) had none. Three subjects had no non-protected responses. Coefficient alpha for protected responses was .82 across the sample (and no lower than .81 in any country).

In general, the results supported the hypotheses of Baron and Spranca (1997) about the nature of protected values. In some cases, the present results went beyond those of Baron and Spranca in this regard. The three countries did not differ much in the extent to which these hypotheses applied. The groups differed in which values were protected, but not along the lines we hypothesized. We discuss these results in turn.

Properties of protected values

To test for the hypothesized properties of protected values, we looked at each question for each action, e.g., the first action for the INVEST question. For this action-question pair, we examined the proportion of yes responses as a function of the subjects' answers to question 2 for the action: not opposed; opposed (but not absolute); and absolute (protected). Table 3 shows the means across the 20 actions of these proportions. (For STRONG and ANGER, we present averages instead of proportions.) The main statistical tests were t tests across the 20 items. All differences between Opposed and Protected were significant at p<.025 or better. For example, the INVEST question showed more agreement for actions for which the subject had a protected value (.85) than for actions that the subject was opposed to but did not have a protected value (.60). The t test shows that the relation between protectedness and the answer to INVEST is consistent across the 20 actions.

Of greatest interest are the results for TWICE. Subjects opposed to the action (but not absolutely) were more likely to say that it was worse for twice as many people to commit it than were subjects in either of the other groups - not opposed, or protected - for each action. This result goes beyond the findings of Baron and Spranca in showing that quantity insensitivity is not just the result of degree of opposition. Clearly, as evidence in other questions, subjects in the protected group are more opposed than subjects in the opposed (but not protected) group. This result supports the claim that quantity insensitivity results with concern with the existence of actions rather than with the magnitude of their effects.

The INVEST question supported the hypothesis that protected values were agent relative. Yes answers were most frequent for protected values. Agent relativity is also consistent with the results for PERSONAL, although responses to that question are surely overdetermined.

The SELF-INTEREST question supported our extension of Baron and Spranca's ``denial'' hypothesis. People with protected values are more likely to think that their opponents are acting out of self-interest. This question showed no difference between opposed and non-opposed subjects, so the relation to protectedness is unlikely to result from mere strength of opposition.

WRONG and OBLIGATION supported the hypothesis that protected values are moral. They are seen as universal and objective obligations. These results are consistent with those for PRIVATE. Since protected values are not mere expressions of preference, intervention by the government is more justified.

STRONG and ANGER were, as hypothesized, related to protectedness, and this result was not the result of strength of opposition, since neither question distinguished opposed and non-opposed subjects.

Although EXAGGERATE was significantly higher for actions that were protected than for those that were opposed only, this effect was - unlike the other effects we have described, inconsistent. Nine of the 20 actions showed the reverse pattern: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13, 17, and 18. (The effect was, of course, much larger in the other 11 items.) Moreover, as we explain later, the effect was not even significant within the Malaysian sample, which otherwise showed all the hypothesized effects. This inconsistency supports the conclusions of Spranca and Baron (1997), based on other kinds of analyses, that posturing and exaggeration are not the sole sources of protected-value responses. The increased willingness to exaggerate, on the whole, may simply result from the belief that protected values are morally obligatory, so that the usual constraints on unfair persuasion are weakened.

National differences in the form of values

Countries differed in the pattern of responses to the questions about each action. Table 4 shows responses as a function of question, country, and response to question 2.

Table 4.
Mean responses to questions as a function of answer to question about protected values (question 2), averaged first within each subject, then across subjects. Numbers have the same meaning as in Table 3.

Not opposed Opposed Protected
PERSONAL .69 .58 .43 .84 .81 .81 .93 .87 .93
PRIVATE .51 .52 .78 .45 .48 .43 .24 .21 .33
EXAGGERATE .55 .29 .32 .65 .37 .35 .66 .47 .43
FEW .56 .46 .53 .54 .35 .36 .18 .16 .10
TWICE .64 .43 .31 .57 .42 .42 .48 .33 .39
INVESTMENT .39 .28 .18 .56 .45 .55 .89 .78 .88
SELF-INTEREST .54 .52 .42 .66 .56 .61 .87 .82 .85
WRONG .54 .38 .20 .58 .58 .58 .91 .86 .86
OBLIGATION .60 .16 .13 .67 .55 .47 .89 .86 .76
STRONG 3.8 3.3 3.6 3.8 3.7 3.2 4.7 4.8 4.5
ANGRY 3.5 2.7 2.6 3.7 3.1 2.8 4.5 4.3 4.1

We first examined responses to questions for protected values, the rightmost three columns in Table 4. (Recall that most actions were in this category.) An overall analysis of variance showed that these differences were significant (p<.0005). For the individual questions, differences were significant for PRIVATE, EXAGGERATE, TWICE, INVESTMENT, and OBLIGATION. Some of these differences are consistent with our expectations. In particular, Americans were less likely than Malaysians and Singaporeans to endorse OBLIGATION (both comparisons significant by post-hoc tests) and more likely than Singaporeans to endorse PRIVATE (likewise significant). These results are consistent with the hypothesis that Americans are more relativistic, even when protected values are involved, and with their higher Hofstede score on individualism. Also relevant is the extent of government involvement in citizen's lives, which has traditionally been high in both Asian countries, though higher in Singapore than in Malaysia, while the recent trend in the U.S. has been towards less government involvement.

Malaysians were more tolerant of exaggeration than Americans and Singaporeans (significantly, by post-hoc tests), and less tolerant of investment than Singaporeans. (No other effects were significant post-hoc.) The latter result is consistent with a more tolerant attitude toward capitalism in general in Singapore, although the former is more difficult to understand. Perhaps Singaporeans also care more about the consequences than the other two countries. In general, Singaporeans seem to be very pragmatic and do not engage much in wishful thinking, which may explain their more utilitarian viewpoint on Agent Relativity.

We also examined country differences in the difference between protected and opposed. This was not the same for the three national groups (p=.003 for an overall test of the effect of country on the difference scores for the 11 questions). Questions affected significantly were PRIVATE and FEW. The difference for PRIVATE - Americans less affected than Singaporeans - can be understood in terms of the effect for Americans already noted. Americans' concern for privacy was less affected when protected values were involved. Some Americans seem capable of combining a belief in moral obligation with a belief in privacy, as if to say, ``People who do this are dead wrong, but they can go to hell without my help or the intrusion of government.'' Perhaps such an attitude increases social stability in the face of deep moral disagreement.

In the case of FEW, Malaysians showed a larger effect than Singaporeans. We cannot explain this.

National differences in values that were protected

The second part of the analysis pertained to national differences in which values were protected. The questionnaire contained four categories of actions: Rights, Preference for Nature, Environment, and Personal. We hypothesized that countries would differ in the prevalence of protectedness depending on the category. A factor analysis of protected responses (yes=1, no=0) for each issue with varimax rotation did not support this analysis into categories. (See Lim, 1996, for details.) These categories were also unhelpful in understanding the national differences that we found.

No country had a significantly higher prevalence of protected values than others, but each country tended to protect different values. Analysis of variance confirmed that endorsement of each action as protected or not depended on both question and country together (p<.0005). Table 2 shows the proportions of protected responses for each question by country. Significant differences (p<.05, Fisher test) are indicated. Note that most differences were between Singapore and the two other countries. In general, the differences are most easily understood in terms of subjects' acceptance of government policies, plus closeness to certain problems, rather than general categories such as rights. We discuss these differences by question:

1. Singaporeans show the fewest protected responses of the three groups on banning art. In Singapore, art and publications like Cosmopolitan have been banned in the past when deemed offensive or disruptive to racial or political harmony. To a lesser extent, publications have also been banned in Malaysia for the same reasons, and sometimes foreign magazines are censored with a black marker pen if they show nude images or publish unflattering comments about the government.

2. Malaysians had the fewest protected responses to low wages. This result could be related to the influx of immigrant workers who are paid the lowest possible wages and given very few benefits, or that Malaysia's competitive advantage used to be low wages so Malaysians are more tolerant of low wages and benefits, either believing that it is acceptable or that the situation will improve over time as it has in Malaysia.

3. Many more Americans protected human rights than the other two countries, a result that we expected given that the U.S. has traditionally linked trade and human rights while Malaysia and Singapore have been opposed to the linkage, and claim that, a) Asians define human rights differently, and b) some curtailment of human rights is necessary for economies to grow.

4. Singaporeans protected race admissions (that is, they were opposed to university admissions based on race) more than Malaysians and Americans (although the former difference was not significant). This result is consistent with government policy. Singapore is a very strong meritocracy and the other two countries have some sort of affirmative action or preferential policies in place.

5. Americans' admitting someone to university based on their gender was less protected than that of Singaporeans. Again, American affirmative action programs sometimes address gender as well as race. Malaysia's programs are not gender based.

6. The order of the proportions for early abortions could be correlated with the availability of abortions in each country: in Singapore, abortions are legal and generally available in hospitals, in the U.S., abortions are legal but are not as easily available, and in Malaysia, they are illegal. However, in overall opposition (opposed plus protected responses), Americans were least opposed to early abortions (53%) while 74% of Singaporeans and 80% of Malaysians were opposed. Abortion is less of an issue in Singapore and Malaysia than in the U.S., and people are generally opposed to it based on traditional notions of the sanctity of life whereas, in the U.S., it is more of a philosophical and religious issue. However, Singaporeans may be least protected because of beliefs that one should not have children unless one can afford to, because each child needs to have all the resources it can get to survive in Singapore's meritocracy.

7. Americans had more protected opposition than Singaporeans to forced abortions for population control. Singaporeans could be least protected because they were previously exposed to a form of population engineering by the government, which urged a ``stop at two'' children policy when it feared that the population could be growing too fast to be sustainable on the small island. Singaporeans and Malaysians could also be more sympathetic to a perceived common good, such as population control, than Americans who might emphasize individual choice over the common good.

8 and 10. Singaporeans were most protected against gene therapy and selling organs. Discussions with Singaporean students suggested a strong sense of ``fairness,'' a belief that rich people would be the ones most likely to be able to afford using gene therapy and buying organs. Furthermore, Singaporeans appear to be particularly opposed to gene therapy because that would give some people unfair advantages over others in a society where getting ahead financially and socially are very important.

11-15. All countries showed high levels of protected responses on the environmental actions. This is mostly consistent with Benton and Funkhouser's (1994) study of American and Singaporean business students. In it, they found that Singaporeans were not significantly different from Americans on knowledge and concern about environmental issues although their scores were a little higher, whereas U.S. students were not significantly higher on willingness to act and significantly higher on actual behavior. For action 14, Americans were least protected against using explosives that damage Coral Reefs when fishing. This could be because this is an issue that is not very important or close to Americans, since most coral reefs are found in the Pacific. However, they were generally as opposed (including protected and non-protected responses) to coral reefs as Malaysians and Singaporeans (95%, 94%, and 93%, respectively).

16. Among the personal actions, Singaporeans were least protected on marriage without love. A possible explanation is the heritage of arranged marriages, but this was prevalent in Malaysia as well, so this cannot account for the difference. Possibly, financial security and social status are very important to Singaporeans, and this could contribute to more pragmatism about marriage than in the other cultures.

17. Americans showed more protected opposition to paying for sex combined with disloyalty.

18. Singaporeans (and, not significantly, Malaysians) had more protected oppositions than Americans to institutionalizing parents against their will. This is consistent with a norm of filial piety.

20. We expected that the deathbed-promise would capture filial piety and that this would be protected for the Asian cultures, but the difference between countries was not significant. Either the item measured breaking promises rather than filial piety, or else filial piety is no longer as strong as in the past in Asia. Some indication of this may be the 1995 Singapore ruling that neglected parents over the age of 60 can sue their children for maintenance if their children are able to support them but do not. Despite some expectation that this would not happen in Singapore, the Ministry for Community Development reported about 10 calls a month before the law was enacted and 11 people applied on the first day.

In sum, essentially all of the differences are consistent with differences in traditional culture or government policy, with the exception of the coral-reef item. The differences for that item may reflect local concern.

Other sources of differences

We examined the effects of parents' education (average of both parents), acculturation to Western values (in Asian countries - based on responses to questions about language, movies, television, and social interaction), religion, race, and gender. We used parents' education as an indicator of social class. In the case of religion and race, we looked separately at the major groups in each country. We looked at effects on overall frequence of protected responses, the pattern of protected responses across actions, and the pattern of responses to questions 3-13 for protected actions. The last set of analyses (questions) yielded no consistent effects. Parents' education had no effects.

The proportion of protected responses decreased with age (r=.19, p=.003). We cannot interpret this result. Given that subjects were students, older students might constitute a special group.

Gender had no overall effect on the proportion of protected responses, but it did interact with country, and it affected which responses were protected. Moreover, it interacted with country to determine the proportion of protected responses. When the American subjects were removed, it had no significant effects. American women had more protected responses (68%) than American men (42%, p<.0005). Malaysian men had more (63%) than Malaysian women (52%), but the difference was not significant. (For Singpore, the corresponding figures were 55% for women and 57% for men.) The effects of gender on which values were protected were confined to the Americans. Women had more protected responses (Fisher test, p<.05) for actions 2 (low wages), 3 (human rights), 8 (gene therapy), 9 (raising IQ), 13 (exporting waste), 14 (coral reefs), 15 (dolphin deaths), 16 (marrying for money), and 19 (spending more on son than daughter). These issues are difficult to distinguish from others listed, but they do seem to characterize the ``gender gap'' in American political opinion. Our failure to find this result in the Asian groups, plus the significant interaction between country and gender (p<.0005), suggest that the gender gap is an American phenomenon.

Acculturation (to Western culture) increased overall frequency of protected responses in the Asian samples, but it interacted significantly with country and was significant only in Malaysia (r=.47, p<.0005). Acculturation did not interact with the action in question; its effect was present for all items. The explanation of the effect of acculturation may relate to an effect of race. Only in Malaysia were there enough minority subjects to analyze the effect of race at all meaningfully. The 11 Malays had fewer protected responses (.30) than the 36 Chinese (.62;r=.54, p<.0005). Moreover, race was correlated with acculturation (r=.62, p<.0005). It was also confounded with religion. The Malays were all Muslim and none of the Chinese was Muslim. (Two were Catholic, 12 Protestant, 17 Buddhist, 4 Agnostic, and 1 Other.) In a regression of protected responses on race and acculturation, only race had a significant effect. Although this result is not conclusive with such a small sample (just the Malaysian Chinese and Malays), it suggests that Chinese in Malaysia are more inclined to endorse protected values than Malays (who are also Muslim). Comparisons of the major religious groups in Singapore and the U.S. yielded no effects.


Our results confirm that protected values exist in all three cultures with the same properties that were proposed by Baron and Spranca (1997). However, the values that are protected differ from one country to another.

The results strengthen earlier conclusions. Of particular interest, subjects were more sensitive to quantity when they were opposed to an action but not absolutely then when they were not opposed or when they were opposed absolutely. This shows that insensitivity to quantity is associated with absoluteness and not with degree of opposition as such. The finding that Malaysians did not associate exaggeration with absoluteness further supports the conclusion that protected values are not simply the result of posturing. The results also show an association between protected values and a previously untested form of rationalization: the tendency to blame opposition on self-interest.

We chose the countries assuming that Singaporeans and Malaysians would be most alike and Singaporeans would be more like Americans because of their high standard of living. Clearly, Malaysians and Singaporeans turned out to be quite different. As Table 3 shows, Singaporeans differed from Malaysia and the U.S. on which values were protected more than Malaysia and the U.S. differed from each other. Most values agree with government policy. Perhaps people tend to accept certain values more if they have to live with them; that is, they rationalize those values to reduce cognitive dissonance from realizing that they are not doing anything about a value they oppose. Otherwise, the government may reflect the values of the culture, or people genuinely believe what the government propounds. The Malaysian and Singaporean governments have been so successful economically that many citizens do believe that what the government is doing is best for them.

Otherwise, we found no clear patterns in which countries were more protected and on which values. We expected some differences in environmental values because some of the issues are closer to some countries than others. There is a conventional wisdom that people in developing countries lack environmental values, which has derived theoretical support from Inglehart's ``postmaterialist values'' thesis (Brechin and Kempton, 1994). However, in line with Brechin and Kempton's (1994) argument against the lack of environmental values in developing countries, our study showed that there are no significant differences in the prevalence or type of environmental values of the three countries. In agreement with our findings, Simons (1995) found that American and Zimbabweans showed high levels of concern about the environment but their concerns differed: Americans were more concerned about abstract, global issues such as the ozone and population growth, whereas Zimbabweans were more concerned about concrete, local issues such as water pollution and deforestation. All the environmental issues in our study are concrete issues and we may have found differences in the types of environmental values in the three countries had we included some abstract issues. We did find that Asians showed more protected values concerning coral reef destruction, which is a particular problem of the region.

Although Asian cultures are portrayed as having obvious gender divisions and discrimination, the gender gap showed up only for the American sample. In some ways, women in Singapore and Malaysia have had less gender discrimination in the sense that the existence of women leaders and judges began earlier than in the U.S., and the Minangkabau culture in the state of Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia has a heritage of matriarchy where property and children descend from the mother's side. In many homes, the woman is the implicit head of the household although the husband is considered the head to the outside world. We believe the gender gap in the American sample is a reflection of the growing gender rift on political issues which may stem from the difference in the socialization of men and women, or from the recent history of American politics.

The conclusions of this study are limited by the use of student subjects in all three countries. The subjects were all relatively well educated. As Haidt, Koller, and Dias (1993) show, moral judgments may differ between people of different educational and social status. In this study, we used parents' education as an indicator of social status but no significant effects were found. However, given that all our subjects were university students, the distribution of social status may not be wide enough to show significant effects.


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Protected values in Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States

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Jonathan M Baron
Wed Jun 25 07:34:23 EDT 1997