Spiral Dynamics is a theory that developed out of Clare Graves’ work. There is a lot written about Spiral Dynamics on the web but very little about Graves’ original research. Graves published very little during his career. That which is available and in the public domain is available on this website. Graves was in the process of writing his opus magnum when he had a debilitating heart attack and several years later died without publishing his book. This work was lost for twenty years until two of his students, Christopher Cowan and Natasha Todorovic gathered together all they could find of his unpublished manuscript, edited it together with Graves’ writing from others sources to fill in the blanks and published The Never Ending Quest.
Unfortunately the Never Ending Quest is an expensive academic book. Far fewer people have read this book in comparison to those who are familiar with Spiral Dynamics. This makes it very difficult to discuss Graves’ original work because there are several differences between Spiral Dynamics and Graves’ theory. In order to aid peoples understanding, this post is an attempt to surmise Graves’ Theory. In future posts I intend to highlight the differences, and critique all versions of the theory. This post is a simple summary of his research and findings.
Graves was not satisfied with any of the existing models that explained human values, and rather than simply inventing his own theory to explain them, he devised a series of experiments to investigate the situation1 and then followed this up with extensive library research to compare his results with existing knowledge. This sets him apart from many of his peers who tended to hypothesize without really testing their theories.2 This is not to say there are not flaws in his methodology, there is a great deal of further research that remains undone, however I think that his key findings are very important to our understanding of human values.
It was important to Graves to ensure that his own ideas did not interfere with his studies, so he devised an experiment that allowed him to step back.3
First of all he took a group of freshman students for his psychology course, who had very little exposure to psychological theory, and asked them to write down how they believed the ideal human being would behave. He then took these papers and gave them to a second group of people and asked them to order the papers into as many consistent sets as they found necessary, and to place any papers that would not easily fit into another pile.4
This provided Graves with a range of different types of values, but no information by which to order them. He returned to his first group of students and organized the course around provoking the students to think about their values. He was careful not to bias the results by favouring a particular value system and so graded all work on internal consistency rather than by which values they expressed, he publicly demonstrated this by reading out some of the values and stating what he thought of the values before stating the grade; often the grade would be high even though Graves disliked the values.5 Throughout the course, he asked the students to rewrite their papers about their values. He then gave these to the second group for reordering.
The results of this study provided Graves with data about how the students values changed.
He repeated this experiment for nine years6. He then performed further studies7, including many standard psychological tests and experiments involving groups of adults who share the same conception. For several years towards the end of his research he performed library research to flesh out the edges of his theory, in particular around a couple of the value systems that he did not have a great deal of evidence for. 8
Five different value conceptions from his experiments, plus one further, largely hypothetical conception. A further two conceptions from his library research, providing a total of eight value conceptions. Each conception is defined, not by what the person thought, but how they thought, for example, it did not matter whether a person believed in God or not, but how the person related to their idea of God.9
The value conceptions are linearly ordered. Each value system develops out of the previous one. When peoples values change they either ascend or descend within this hierarchy. Each new conception embeds and subordinates the previous one.10
The development of the value systems are cyclical and oscillate between two sub types. One sub type is we centred, it looks to the external world for authority and tries to change itself internally to fit the world. The other is I centred, it looks internally to find a sense of authority and tries to change the world around it to fit this inner sense of authority. 11
Each value conception exists in three states. A nodal state which is the ideal version of that conception. An entering state, which occurs as the value conception is settling in. An exiting state as the value conception is beginning to break down.12
Development through the conceptions is complex but essentially goes through six stages13. These six stages may be gone through many times in the process of someone’s conception developing from one conception to another14. Conceptions cannot be skipped, each conception depends on knowledge gained in the previous conception.15. The six stages are.16
- Potential : Must have the neuropsychological capability to develop the next conception.
- Solution of existential problems : The existential problems of the current conception must be resolved before the next conception can build on them.
- Feeling of dissonance : occurs when the persons sense of authority questions the current conception.
- Gaining of insights : A realization that overthrows an assumption of the current conception.
- Having properly timed or administered aid or non-interference – that is removal of barriers.
- Opportunity to consolidate.
When people with a particular conception group together, they form a social structure that is unique for each conception.17
The value conceptions overlap and are wavelike rather than concretely defined.18
Only 60% of people have a solid conception that is identifiable (including entering, nodal and exiting states). The rest are a mixture of different conceptions.19
That human value conceptions have no end goal, they are an emergent phenomena. New and more developed value conceptions will continue to emerge. 20
The development of the value conceptions progresses through a double-helix relationship between The Existential Means for Living (life conditions) and The Existential problems (mind conditions)21 . Mind conditions are the psychological state and capabilities of the person. Life conditions are the situation in the world that supports the person, from the societal infrastructure to the kind of relationships that are available. Each value conception is dependant on both conditions; it is impossible to maintain a value system if the societal conditions do not support it or if the persons psychological state cannot comprehend it.
Graves theorizes that the value conceptions are grouped into large groups. Each group existing within a single oscillation of his double helix model, with seven conceptions in each group. The first group, which consists of most of the conceptions Graves uncovered are concerned with issues to do with survival and he calls these subsistence conceptions, the second group are concerned with existential issues and he calls these being conceptions.22
Various psychometric aptitudes correlate with values development23. A few examples include: IQ, beyond a very low baseline of 70 does not correlate, however cognitive complexity and behavioural freedom increases. Dogmatism and rigidity decreases. Loyalty, religiousness, honesty and kindness are all cyclic between the I and we conceptions.
Graves’ value conceptions have similarities with other developmental psychological theories, however Graves’ came about through studying adults, not children24 .
I’m going to leave these for anotherday so that I can get this post up as I won’t have time to work on it for another week. (Note to self: add a link in here when it is done).
All references are are for:
Clare W. Graves. 2005. The Never Ending Quest. ECLET Publishing
8. pp48 49
16. pp104-105, pp170-171
24. pp 439-473