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Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2014 Feb;18(1):13-41. doi: 10.1177/1088868313501745. Epub 2013 Sep 23.

Social value orientation: theoretical and measurement issues in the study of social preferences.

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1ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


What motivates people when they make decisions and how those motivations are potentially entangled with concerns for others are central topics for the social, cognitive, and behavioral sciences. According to the postulate of narrow self-interest, decision makers have the goal of maximizing personal payoffs and are wholly indifferent to the consequences for others. The postulate of narrow self-interest-which has been influential in economics, psychology, and sociology-is precise and powerful but is often simply wrong. Its inadequacy is well known and efforts have been made to develop reliable and valid measurement methods to quantify the more nuanced social preferences that people really have. In this paper, we report on the emergence and development of the predominant conceptualization of social preferences in psychology: social value orientation (SVO). Second, we discuss the relationship between measurement and theory development of the SVO construct. We then provide an overview of the literature regarding measurement methods that have been used to assess individual variations in social preferences. We conclude with a comparative evaluation of the various measures and provide suggestions regarding the measures' constructive use in building psychologically realistic theories of people's social preferences.


behavioral economics; helping/prosocial behavior; individual differences; judgment/decision making; motivation/goals; research methods; social cognition

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