Values, temperament, political orientation and their evolutionary origin

Jonathan Haidt’s model of different value orientations of conservatives and liberals has received a lot of attention recently, not least because of the increasing polarisation. However, research in this area is much older and one of the most interesting approaches I have found is Shalom Schwartz’s circle of values. Schwartz noticed that many of the values are opposites, e.g power and universalism (egalitarianism) and certain values typically cluster, e.g. conformity and tradition.

In The Praeger Handbook of Personality across Cultures (2017) Schwartz writes:

Values in the top part of the circle largely express intrinsic motivation. Pursuing the goals of these values is rewarding in itself; it provides satisfaction or pleasure through expressing autonomy and competence (openness) or nurturance and relatedness (self-transcendence). Values in the bottom part of the circle largely express extrinsic motivation. Satisfying the goals of these values is contingent on meeting others’ expectations and avoiding sanctions (conformity, tradition), on receiving protection and care (security), and on obtaining social approval and material rewards (power and part of achievement).

If we generalize some more from these patterns we arrive at the following scheme:

If we compare the basic value systems to extreme political positions we arrive at:

From a historic and evolutionary point of view, we can see that hunter-gatherers match the top half of the circle (competence and autonomy) and herder-farmers the bottom half (achievement and social approval). Hunter-gatherers lived in egalitarian, anarchical bands with few status distinctions. Farmers and herders were food producers with status hierarchies tied to achievement, wealth and social status.

Farming required a high amount of collaborative effort and conformism organized hierarchically (authoritarianism), a lot of routines (tradition) and a lot of security to guard the produce and accumulated wealth from being raided. Herding had somewhat different requirements as the collective effort was lower, less conformism was required and power and achievement were relatively higher in value as well as outperforming other groups (social dominance hierarchy) due to frequent raiding among herders. The extrinsic motivation stems primarily from achieving social status (money, honorifics, etc.) and is socially determined (i.e. by the values of the group).

Hunter-gatherers were rather similar in values (egalitarianism), with hunters valuing competence and autonomy (anarchy) more and gatherers valuing social cohesion (communism) more.

Of course, people are somewhat mixed nowadays. However, assortative mating has made sure that we aren’t all completely mixed and that some people have clearer tendencies than others. Helen Fisher found assortative mating along with the same four temperaments, with directors (hunters) and negotiators (gatherers) having a preference to mate from the other group rather than within:

For more information about the evolution of the four temperaments check out my book:

Originally published at on November 6, 2021.