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Supporting research

The importance of a meaningful philosophy of life

Since the 1960’s professor Alexander Astin has been tracking changes in values within the American student population.  From data of around 200,000 people he has found that in the late 1960,s around 80% thought that it was very important or essential to have a meaningful philosophy of life, this decreased to around 40% in the late 1990’s. At the same time, materialistic values rose. For example, those who thought that it was very important or essential to ‘be very well off financially’ rose from 40 % in the 60’s to 70% in the 80’s.

Astin A. W., Green, K. C., & Korn, W.S. (1987) The American freshman: Twenty year trends, Los Angeles: ;Higher Education Research Institute, Graduate School of Edcuation, University of California, Los Angeles.

The move to extrinsic values

Tim Kasser and colleague Richard Ryan, Psychology Professor at the University of Rochester, have been measuring  ‘intrinsic and extrinsic values and looking at the psychological, social and ecological outcomes.  What they have found is that those who set up extrinsic goals are much more unhappy than those who don’t. Kasser and Ryan measure these values by asking participants to agree or disagree with certain statements. For intrinsic values participants are invited to agree or disgaree with statements such as“ I will follow my interests and curiosity where they take me.” “I will express my love for special people.” “I will help the world become a better place.” And for extrinsic goals they ask participants to agree or disagree with statements such as I will have many expensive possessions.”, “I will be admired by many people.”,and “I will achieve “the look” I’ve been after.”  

The consequence of adopting extrinsic values are startling; those who value fame and fortune are more anxious, depressed, antisocial and have lower levels of psychological well-being than those who don’t. 

This result has been found in students, adults, adolescents and business people across the world in countries such as India, South Korea, United Kingdom, Russia and Denmark.  Kasser ad Ryan’s research has been extended and other researchers have found negative consequences of extrinsic values such as reduced motivation, learning and performance, lower levels of empathy, pro social behaviour, prejudice, greed, larger ecological footprints as well as other ecological and social outcomes.   What the research shows is that pursuing extrinsic values, such as aiming for financial success or for fame, come at the cost of intrinsic values. 

Changing values of youth and the influence of television: A Scottish perspective

Every two years Youth Link in Scotland publish a survey of young people's attitudes. The last was ‘Being young in Scotland in 2007’.

This report shows that 76% of 11-16 year olds listed watching TV as their most popular spare time activities and 88% of 17-25 year olds said the same thing.
This translates into hours a day spent watching TV.

The report also records the following trend:

The data from the three sweeps of the survey suggest that young people may be attaching decreasing importance to the value of volunteering. The proportion of 11-16 year olds who regard volunteering as one of the most important aspects of good citizenship decreased from 21% in 2003 to 13% in 2007. Among 17-25 year olds the proportion decreased to a lesser extent  from 19% in 2003 to 12% in 2007.

Another worrying aspect of the report  is the number of young people who agree that more should be done to help people living in poor countries. Among 17-25 year olds 43% agree – a drop of 23% since 2005. 36 per cent more of this age group also think that there are too many immigrants. This is a 60% of the total.


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