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Practicing What We Preach? The Influence of a Societal Interest Value on Civic Engagement

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Recently, much attention has focused on declining levels of civic engagement as a symptom of a wide range of social ills. Some claim that Americans' tendency to endorse individualistic beliefs to the exclusion of a collective or societal interest value accounts for declining levels of civic engagement. This study investigated whether a value commitment to benefit the collective, called societal interest, helps to explain civic engagement. Data from the 1990–1992 National Election Studies panel study were used to evaluate whether a societal interest value helps to explain participation in community affairs and efforts to solve collective problems. The findings support the hypothesis that societal interest influences the likelihood of engaging in behavior to benefit the collective. These findings support the view that human behavior is influenced by multiple motives (including a desire to benefit the collective). Expressions of commitment to societal interest are more than mere lip service to noble ideals; they have real consequences for behavior.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rice University

Publication date: September 1, 1998

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