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The Prediction of Stress by Values and Value Conflict

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The Journal of Psychology, 2005, 139(4), 369–382

The Prediction of Stress by Values and Value Conflict
DAVE BOUCKENOOGHE MARC BUELENS Department Of People and Organization Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, Belgium JOHNNY FONTAINE Department of Personnel Management, Work, and Organizational Psychology Gent University, Belgium KARLIEN VANDERHEYDEN Department of People and Organization Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, Belgium

ABSTRACT. The authors investigated the relationships among stress, values, and value conflict. Data collected from 400 people working in a variety of companies in Flanders indicated that the values of openness to change, conservation, self-transcendence, and self-enhancement were important predictors of stress. Participants open to change reported less stress, whereas participants who had high scores on conservation, self-enhancement, and self-transcendence perceived more stress. People who reported high value conflict also experienced more stress. Separate analyses for men and women showed that there were gender differences in the relationships observed between the 4 value types and stress. These data have noteworthy theoretical and practical implications. Key words: stress, values and value conflict

CONSIDERABLE SKEPTICISM AND CONFUSION exist in research on values because of the plethora of questionnaires and definitions that have been used in the past (Hofstede, 1984; Kluckhohn, 1951; Rokeach, 1973; Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987; Super, 1980). This situation has resulted in the use of different value dimensions lacking universal replicability (Roe & Ester, 1999). In his path-breaking work, Schwartz (1992, 1994) addressed this issue and generated a comprehensive typology based on a theoretical analysis of the uniAddress correspondence to Dave Bouckenooghe, Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, Department of People and Organization, Reep, 1 B-9000 Gent, Belgium; (e-mail).


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versal requirements of the human condition. This comprehensive typology includes 10 basic values and has been replicated in more than 60 countries. The 10 basic values are stimulation, self-direction, security, conformity, tradition, universalism, benevolence, power, achievement, and hedonism. These 10 values can be organized into two sets of opposing higher order value types, arrayed on two bipolar dimensions. The first dimension—openness to change versus conservation—opposes values that emphasize one’s own independent thought and action and favors change (self-direction and stimulation) to values that emphasize submissive self-restriction, preservation of traditional practices, and protection of stability (security, conformity, and tradition). The second dimension—self-transcendence versus self-enhancement—opposes values that emphasize acceptance of others as equals and concern for their welfare and favors change (universalism and benevolence) to values that emphasize the pursuit of one’s relative success and dominance over others (power and achievement). Hedonism includes elements of both openness to change and self-enhancement. Previous researchers have examined values in relation to job satisfaction (Burke, 2001; Knoop, 1994b; Meglino, Ravlin, & Adkins, 1989), although the relation of values to another well-being measure, such as stress, has hardly been addressed. The lack of research assessing the effects of values on stress is strange, because a myriad of stress conceptualizations emphasize the importance of personality in explaining stress (Beehr & Bhagat, 1985; French, 1963; Ivancevich & Matteson, 1980; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Quick & Quick, 1984; Seyle, 1976; Summers, Decotiis, & Denisi, 1995). For example, there has been extensive research into the effects on stress of such personality variables as the Type A behavior pattern, negative affectivity, locus of control, dispositional optimism, extraversion versus introversion, and neuroticism (Chang, 1998; Chen & Spector, 1991; Kirkcaldy, Cooper, & Furnham, 1999; Spector & O’Connell, 1994; Vogelaar, Eurelings-Bontekoe, & Van de Velde, 1991). It is important to study the link between individual values and stress, because values contain a motivational component (Schwartz, 1992, 1994), and therefore can act as a positive energy source to cope with stress. However, the scant empirical evidence that does exist on the relationship between values and well-being shows that high scores on values do not always predict higher wellbeing (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002; Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). For example, Kasser and Ahuvia pointed out that materialism was related to lower self-actualization, vitality, and happiness and to increased physical symptomatology. In a similar study, Sagiv and Schwartz found no relation between the value of power and several well-being measures. Our hypotheses concerning the relationship between stress and the four higher order values of Schwartz (1992, 1994; openness to change, conservation, self-transcendence, and self-enhancement) focused on growth-related and deficiency-related values (Bilsky & Schwartz, 1994) and on self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Self-determination theory makes a distinction between intrinsic

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and extrinsic values. According to this theory, autonomy, relatedness, and competence are innate, basic psychological needs. Pursuit of these values leads directly to intrinsic satisfaction, the presumed source of true, noncontingent personal well-being. In contrast, pursuing extrinsic values (e.g., money, fame, public image, control over others) provides only indirect satisfaction of these innate needs, at best, and may even interfere with their fulfilment. This theory assumes that people will experience more well-being to the extent that they pursue intrinsic rather than extrinsic needs or goals. Extrinsic goals may also be related to poorer well-being because strongly pursuing them often requires stressful, ego-involved engagement in activities. In research relevant to these issues, Knoop (1994b) examined the relationship between work values and job satisfaction; he also tested the link between work values and work stress (Knoop, 1994a). In the former study, Knoop found that the strongest predictors for satisfaction were the intrinsic values. These intrinsic work values contributed to the variance in nearly all job satisfaction dimensions. In the latter study (1994a), he found that only the intrinsic workrelated values explained a significant amount of variance for each stress dimension, whereas extrinsic work values did not add to the variance explained in physical, emotional, and mental stress. According to Sagiv and Schwartz (2000), a strong correspondence exists between intrinsic values and benevolence, universalism (the higher order value, self-transcendence), and self-direction (the higher order value, openness to change). The extrinsic goals are those of the power value type (the higher order value, self-enhancement). In the theory of growth- and deficiency-related needs, values that represent growth needs (e.g., self-actualization) become more important the more a person attains the goals toward which the values are directed, whereas values that represent deficiency needs (e.g., health and safety) are especially important to those who are unable to attain the goals toward which they are directed (Bilsky & Schwartz, 1994). As a result, priority given to growth-related values ought to correlate in a positive way with well-being and negatively with stress, whereas a priority given to deficiency-related values ought to correlate in a positive way with stress. In the first dimension of Schwartz (1992, 1994), the values of openness to change (stimulation and self-direction) are growth-related and are likely to alleviate stress, whereas the values of the opposite pole from this dimension, particularly conservation (security, conformity, and tradition) are deficiency-related and should have an opposite impact on experienced stress. In the second dimension, all self-transcendence values (universalism and benevolence) are growth-related. A special case, however, is the higher order value of self-enhancement. This higher order value consists of achievement and power values. The power value is a deficiency-related value, and the achievement value is a growth-related value (Bil-


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sky & Schwartz, 1994). In previous research, both kinds of values were presumed to have opposite effects on stress (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002; Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). The power value should raise experienced stress, whereas the achievement value should lower stress. As a result, the opposite effects of these deficiency- and growth-related values of self-enhancement should cancel each other out and result in a nonsignificant correlation. In summary, these theories suggested the following hypotheses: 1. Openness to change should correlate negatively with stress. 2. Conservation should correlate positively with stress. 3. Self-enhancement should not correlate significantly with stress. 4. Self-transcendence should correlate negatively with stress. Person–Organization Fit More than the value profile of a person could influence experienced stress. This idea would be consistent with the person–organization fit theory of stress (Büssing & Glaser, 1999; French, 1963; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). According to Büssing and Glaser, job stress in person–organization fit models either results from a misfit between individual values and environmental opportunities to fulfil those values or from environmental demands that exceed the individual’s capacity. Some empirical studies have accounted for personality characteristics and organizational characteristics as antecedents of experienced stress (Frew & Bruning, 1987; Hendrix, Steel, Leap, & Summers, 1995; Summers et al., 1995). These studies, however, did not fully apply the fit or congruence idea. They gauged the personality and organizational component separately instead of examining the perceived fit between both. The application of the person–organization fit theory in the context of values is relevant to the value congruence hypothesis. Congruity between people’s values and their environment promotes well-being regardless of the particular values to which people ascribe importance. People are likely to experience a positive sense of well-being when they emphasize the same values that prevail in their environment and when they inhabit an environment that allows them to attain the goals to which their values are directed (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). Several studies have examined the impact of value congruence on well-being and have noted that value congruence leads to greater job satisfaction, greater career satisfaction, greater family satisfaction, stress reduction, greater emotional well-being, and fewer psychosomatic symptoms (Burke, 2001; Joiner, 2001; Meglino, Ravlin, & Adkins, 1989; Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000; Taris & Feij, 2001). Sagiv and Schwartz (2000) have proposed three different mechanisms for explaining why value conflict ought to have a negative effect on the well-being of people. The first mechanism is environmental affordances. Incongruent environments do not afford people opportunities to express their important values and

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TABLE 1. Factor Loadings on Stress Variable 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. Stress Stomachache An oppressed feeling Heart palpitations Sleeping disorders Absenteeism Depression A low physical condition Back pain, neck pain, or shoulder pain Lack of appetite Concentration problems An increased blood pressure Easily irritated Stress .545 .521 .744 .612 .454 .508 .505 .409 .779 .745 .634 .453 .646 4.571 35.165

Eigenvalue % of explained variance

block goal attainment. Living in such environments is likely to produce negative well-being. The second mechanism concerns social sanctions. When most people in an environment share a set of value priorities, they are likely to communicate clearly which beliefs, values, and behaviors are normative. People who reject the prevailing normative definitions because these definitions oppose their own values may be ignored or punished, which may undermine their sense of well-being. The third mechanism is internal conflict. One’s sense of well-being may be undermined by conflict between values acquired earlier and values whose internalization is advocated in a new environment. When one must make decisions, strong commitments to incompatible sets of values are likely to provoke internal value conflict and as a result undermine subjective well-being. On the basis of the congruence hypothesis, speculations about the mechanism of value conflict, and empirical findings, we formulated a further hypothesis. Value conflict would correlate positively with stress (Hypothesis 5). Method Participants Flemish working people (N = 400, 200 men and 200 women) responded to a questionnaire measuring the dependent variable (stress) and the five independent variables (four values and value conflict).


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Different occupations were represented: 85 police officers, 33 bank clerks, 75 teachers, 41 nursing staff, 56 manufacturing workers, 32 entrepreneurs, and 78 other occupations. The mean age in this sample was 41.8 years (SD = 9.8 years). Instrument Stress. We constructed a scale from important findings in the stress literature and from items found in the General Health Questionnaire (Koeter & Ormel, 1991). Thirteen items measured the stress variable. The respondents were asked: “How often did you experience the following problems last year?” A 4-point scale was used, with anchors labeled not at all (1) to a lot (4). The 13 items met the minimum item–total correlation threshold of .30 (Kring, Smith, & Neale, 1994). The internal consistency was good (α = .83). In assessing the dimensional nature of the scale, we conducted a factor analysis from which a single factor was retained based on the scree test. Table 1 indicates that all items had sufficiently high factor loadings (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1998). Independent variables. We used a questionnaire developed by Van den Broeck, Vanderheyden, and Cools (2003) to measure self-enhancement, self-transcendence, openness to change, and conservation. The main reason for not using the Dutch version of the Schwartz Values Inventory (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000) was that the instrument was too long to use in a survey. Stern, Dietz, and Guagnano (1998, p. 986) also stated, “Administrating the full 56-item instrument is impractical for some investigators, such as survey researchers, because it takes an unacceptably large amount of the space or time available for administrating a research instrument.” The instrument we used in this study was a 40-item, 5-point Likert-type scale that has already proven its utility in the organizational context (Van den Broeck & Vanderheyden, 2000). The reliability of the four scales was acceptable: SelfEnhancement (α = .78, 14-item scale), Self-Transcendence (α = .72, 11-item scale), Openness to Change (α = .73, nine-item scale), and Conservation (α = .61, six-item scale). The last scale met the threshold of .60 proposed by Robinson, Shaver, and Wrightsman (1991). Additionally, these Cronbach alphas were higher than the values found using the Schwartz Values Inventory (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). To check the conflict between individual values and organizational values, we constructed our own three-item 5-point Likert-type scale. The three items were: “My personal values sometimes conflict with the values in my job or function”; “My personal values sometimes conflict with the organizational values”; and “I must compromise my values at work.” The internal consistency of the total scale was .74, and all interitem correlations exceeded .50. Factor analysis on these items demonstrated the homogeneity of the scale, with loadings ranging between .60 and .75. The scree test indicated that the retention of one factor was

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the most appropriate solution. This one-factor solution explained 49.37% of the variance. The advantage of this measure was that value conflict was gauged by one instrument instead of inferring value conflict from two indirect measures, as has been the case previously (Joiner, 2001; Meglino et al., 1989; Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000; Taris & Feij, 2001). It was important to measure directly the fit or conflict between individual values and organizational values because people differ in their perception of value conflict resulting from the deviation between individual values and organizational values. Data Collection To obtain as heterogeneous and broad a sample as possible, we had addressed several public and private companies settled in two areas of Flanders. We chose these organizations randomly from the telephone directory and asked about their willingness to participate. The participating organizations were diverse in their core activities; they included a large financial institution, a police department, a hospital, two secondary schools, several small businesses, a manufacturer of furniture, a department store, and so forth. From the employee lists in each organization, we selected candidates randomly. We personally gave 600 candidates the questionnaire with a postage-paid return envelope; 400 respondents completed and returned the survey. Because of the personal contact in the distribution process, the response rate was high (Fowler, 1993). Data Analysis We conducted a hierarchical regression analysis to test the hypotheses, applying the procedure proposed by Cohen and Cohen (1983). The advantage of such an analysis is that the increment in the explained variance of an extra set of predictors added to the model can be checked. By applying this statistical technique, we could trace whether value conflict was more important than values in predicting stress. In Model 1, only the four values were taken into account, whereas in Model 2 we added the value conflict predictor. Results Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations Table 2 contains the means (expressed as average response per item), standard deviations, and correlations of all scales. The participants in this sample scored high on Conservation and Openness to Change, medium on Self-Transcendence and Self-Enhancement, and lower on Stress and Value Conflict. This meant that the participants on average reported moderate stress and value con-


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TABLE 2. Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations (N = 400) Scale 1. Self-Transcendence M = 2.780 SD = .510 2. Self-Enhancement M = 2.719 SD = .579 3. Conservation M = 4.275 SD = .556 4. Openness to Change M = 3.581 SD = .527 5. Value Conflict M = 2.755 SD = .520 6. Stress M = 1.497 SD = .396 1 2 3 4 5

–.180*** .106* .123* .120* .123* .130* .140** .045 .094 .251*** .003 .064 –.014 –.142** .304***

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

flict. The Pearson correlations among the values were rather low indicating that the four values were distinct constructs. We used independent sample t tests to determine whether there were sex differences on either the dependent or independent variables. Regarding the independent variables, sex differences appeared only for the value of self-transcendence, t(389) = 3.15, p < .01, with the men reporting lower self-transcendence (M = 2.63, SD = .60) than the women (M = 2.81, SD = .55). Sex differences were also found for the outcome variable stress, t(378) = –4.04, p < .001. Women in this sample experienced more stress (M = 1.58, SD = .45) than the men (M = 1.42, SD = .32). Because of the sex differences on both these variables, we conducted analyses for the full sample and for men and women separately. Effects on Stress We first conducted a regression analysis on the total sample (N = 400). A first exploration (Table 3) tested Model 1 (the four values) as a better predictor of stress than the default zero model, ∆R2 = .08; F(4, 343) = 7.90, p < .001. Model 2, in its turn, was a better predictor than Model 1, ∆R2 = .07; F(1, 342) =

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TABLE 3. Hierarchical Regression Analyses (Dependent Variable Stress) for Total Sample and for Male and Female Subsamples Model 1 Sample Total sample (N = 400) Self-transcendence Self-enhancement Openness to change Conservation Value conflict R2 ∆R2 Women (n = 200) Self-transcendence Self-enhancement Openness to change Conservation Value conflict R2 ∆R2 Men (n = 200) Self-transcendence Self-enhancement Openness to change Conservation Value conflict R2 ∆R2 .201 .299 –.288 .173 β t β Model 2 t

.168 .179 –.244 .112

3.148** 3.345*** –4.203*** 1.934 .084***

.132 .154 –.241 .116 .271

2.566* 2.978** –4.315*** 2.091* 5.407*** .156*** .072***

2.691** 3.904*** –3.378** 2.032* .142***

.153 .251 –.302 .184 .301

2.127* 3.410** –3.717*** 2.268* 4.315*** .205*** .087*** .932 .662 –2.408* .299 4.007*** .128*** .082***

.112 .063 –.212 .023

1.454 .829 –2.613* .289 .046

.070 .048 –.188 .023 .290

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

29.24, p < .001. Three out of the five hypotheses were confirmed (Hypotheses 1, 2, and 5). Specifically, people reporting openness to change experienced less stress (β = –.24, Hypothesis 1), whereas those scoring high on conservation had more stress (β = .12, Hypothesis 2). Conflict between individual values and organizational values raised the probability of experiencing more stress (β = .27, Hypothesis 5). Hypotheses 3 and 4 were rejected because people with high scores on self-enhancement (β = .15, Hypothesis 3) and self-transcendence (β = .13, Hypothesis 4) reported more stress. We conducted separate regression analyses for men and women. For the women, the pattern was the same as for the total group (see Table 3). So, women


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scoring high on self-transcendence (β = .15) and self-enhancement (β = .25) also experienced more stress. Women reporting openness to change experienced less stress (β = –.30), whereas high scores on conservation resulted in more stress (β = .18). Finally, value conflict raised the probability of experiencing more stress (β = .30). The separate analysis for men showed a somewhat different pattern (see Table 3). Model 1, with four values, was not a better predictor than the default zero model, ∆R2 = .05; F(4, 172) = 2.09, p = .08). According to Model 2, men reporting openness to change experienced less stress (β = –.19), whereas those in a constant struggle with individual and organizational values reported more stress (β = .29). Three out of the five hypotheses were confirmed for the men. Openness to change was associated with less stress (Hypothesis 1), value conflict with more stress (Hypothesis 5), and finally self-enhancement was not associated significantly with stress (Hypothesis 3). Discussion Value conflict may be an important predictor in explaining stress in both male and female employees. As a matter of fact, this variable added important variance to our model with four individual values (Model 2). This result supports the congruence hypothesis. Experiencing incongruence between individual values and the dominating values in the job or organization may result in more stress. This result corresponds to outcomes of similar studies (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000; Taris & Feij, 2001). Finding this outcome also fits the stress conceptualizations of Büssing and Glaser (1999), French (1963), and Lazarus and Folkman (1984). According to these authors, job stress either results from a misfit between individual values and environmental opportunities to fulfill these values or from environmental demands that exceed the individual’s capacity to cope with these excessive demands. Consequently, this inquiry supports the person–environment fit idea of stress. Future research ought to examine which of the three earlier discussed mechanisms (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000)—environmental affordances, social sanctions, and internal conflict—are the main cause of the negative impact of value conflict on stress. An interesting finding from the separate regression analyses was the different patterns that emerged for men and women. For the men, the four values seemed almost unrelated to stress, with the exception of openness to change, which correlated negatively with stress. For the women, however, all the values were associated in a significant way with stress. Similar to the total sample of participants, openness to change was associated in a negative way with stress, and self-enhancement, self-transcendence and conservation were related in a positive way. A third important outcome of this study was the partially confirmed

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hypotheses on the relationship between values and stress. In the total sample of 400 participants, hypotheses concerning openness to change and conservation received support. People who have their own independent thought and action, who favor change, who are innovative and adventurous, and who pursue autonomy, growth, and creativity in work, will probably experience less stress than people who emphasize self-restriction, preservation of traditional practices, job security, and maintenance of order in their lives. In the context of globalization and the rapidly changing environment and society, in which flexibility and adaptivity are central pillars, this outcome is not surprising. The hypotheses about self-transcendence and self-enhancement with stress were rejected for the total sample and for the women. People who emphasize the importance of others as equals, and who are altruistic, experience more stress. This finding completely contradicted our assumption. In addition, the selfenhancement value was correlated positively with stress. Consequently, the results of our research gave limited support to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) and to the theory of growth-related and deficiency-related values (Bilsky & Schwartz, 1994), because only two out of the five hypotheses were confirmed. Thus, not all growth-related and intrinsic values may relieve stress. Moreover, self-transcendence, a presumed growth-related value, had an opposite effect. However, the deficiency-related value, conservation, was correlated positively with stress. An explanation of why self-transcendence was positively related to stress may be that people scoring high on this value invest a lot of energy in interacting with others. In the long term, this may lead to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Another explanation may be that people scoring high on this value may, after some time, get the impression that the return on investment in others is very small, leading to negative affectivity. Also worthy of consideration may be the idea that respondents with high scores on self-transcendence tend to experience more value conflict, and thus indirectly experience more stress. In the current sample, this was pointed out as a possibility. Also, the self-transcendence–stress relationship could be influenced by gender. The analysis for men showed a nonsignificant association, whereas for the women there was a positive relationship. In addition, from the descriptive statistics, we found that the women attached more importance to self-transcendence than did the men. When taking this into account, it is possible to state that the self-transcendence–stress relationship is influenced by sex differences. An explanation for the significant relationship between self-enhancement and stress may be the following. As mentioned earlier, the higher order value, selfenhancement, is based on two values—power and achievement—with opposite effects on stress. Previous research demonstrated that achievement, a growthrelated value, was correlated positively with affective well-being (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000), whereas Kasser and Ahuvia (2002) found a negative relation between materialism, a deficiency-related value, and well-being. As a result it is


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possible that the dominance of the deficiency-related value over the growth-related value in self-enhancement leads to distress. This effect may appear when people experience a lack of power, making this value more important than achievement. This condition was probably met in this study. However, the interaction between these values is still to be investigated, because in this study we paid attention only to higher order values. Another noteworthy finding, and important in the context of the self-enhancement–stress relationship, was the nonsignificant relationship we found between stress and self-enhancement for the men. Hence, gender could possibly influence the relationship between stress and selfenhancement. Although the present study yielded some important findings, it had some limitations, including the correlational character of the design. This nonexperimental research strategy made it difficult to draw causal inferences, such as stress was caused by value conflict. It was also possible that stressed people experienced value conflict as an outcome rather than as a cause. Researchers should address this issue. In addition, a substantial part of the variance in stress was not predicted by the independent variables. In future research, other factors should be included when explaining stress, such as cognitive styles, organizational climate, and so forth. The present study was the first to be conducted among working people in Flanders in a effort to gain more insight into the correlations among values, value conflict, and stress. The results demonstrated that the person–organization fit theory was powerful in explaining the relation between value conflict and stress. A very important implication for the work setting was that employers should be aware that employees who do not perceive a match between their own values and organizational values, may report high stress levels. Therefore, preventive actions should be undertaken to ensure that employees perceive the problem of person–organization fit. Furthermore, it should be stressed that women and men display different patterns regarding the values–stress relation. Our inquiry pointed out that the content of values was more related to stress for the women than for the men. As a consequence, in future research regarding the relationship between values and well-being, sex differences should be considered. Such data could cast new light on unexpected outcomes.
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Original manuscript received December 15, 2003 Final revision accepted September 7, 2004

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