Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology - Faculty of Social Sciences


Psychological interventions such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) seek to help clients identify and clarify values and to activate behaviour in valued directions. Values inspire people to commit to and maintain personally meaningful behaviours, and to overcome barriers that may arise, such as difficult feelings and situations. It is therefore important to understand what people of different ages value, what factors might promote or inhibit valued action, and the relationship between valuing and well-being.

This thesis explored values development and well-being in a group of young Australians from their final year of high school to the end of their first post-school year. Authoritative parenting was expected to have stronger and more positive links to values development than parenting styles considered less effective: authoritarian and permissive. Previous research has suggested that some values are more health-promoting than others, so we investigated relationships between well-being and different values contents. The longitudinal design allowed us to examine the role of values change in the development of well-being. One central question focused on the extent to which valued activity was antecedent to well-being, and conversely, the extent to which well-being was antecedent to valued activity.


We used longitudinal data from surveys of a cohort of students at five Australian high schools, over seven years. Participants completed school-based surveys in their first and final years of high school (Grades 7 and 12, respectively) and one online survey at the end of their final year. This was followed by a second online survey approximately one year after the participants had left school. We measured adolescents’ perceptions of parenting styles in Grade 7 and Grade 12, and subjective well-being in Grade 12 and post-school. Values were measured using the Survey of Guiding Principles (SGP; Ciarrochi & Bailey, 2008) in Grade 12 and post-school. To test hypotheses relating to values contents, we allocated items to intrinsic and extrinsic categories (Grouzet et al., 2005) and to seven types based on a cluster analysis of the SGP: power; physical health; stimulation; pro-social; faith; and order. In addition, we created global indices of valuing across all contents. Each of these approaches to values measurement was examined in relation to perceived parenting and well-being. Moderation and mediation analyses were conducted to investigate interactions among variables.


Our results shed light on what matters to young people at the transition from high school. In the last year of high school and the following year, the most important values types were stimulation and pro-social. Least important to our participants were the faith and power values. Gender differences were negligible and were not considered further

There was little change in values from Grade 12 to the post-school measure. However, some participants did show positive changes: those who reported the highest levels of authoritative parenting, which provides a combination of warmth, structure and autonomy. Grade 7 authoritative parenting predicted increasing importance of intrinsic values in emerging adulthood even after controlling for Grade 12 parenting. This means that if two adolescents had equally positive, authoritative parenting experiences in Grade 12, then the adolescent who had experienced the more authoritative parenting in Grade 7 would be expected to develop more strongly held intrinsic values in emerging adulthood. Both Grade 7 and Grade 12 authoritative parenting contributed uniquely to values development. Increases in authoritative parenting contributed to change in global indices of valuing over the same time period. Participants who reported increasingly authoritarian (cold, controlling) parenting experienced increasing pressure, particularly on extrinsic values.

Contrary to expectations, the intrinsic/extrinsic contents distinction (derived from Self-Determination Theory; Deci & Ryan, 2000) was not useful in characterising the relationship between values and well-being. In a series of structural equation models, no independent links were found from intrinsic values to later well-being. Our data did not support the hypothesis that intrinsic values promote well-being, while extrinsic values do not.

In Grade 12, the happiest people were those who reported success in enacting stimulation values. Stimulation values remained a significant contributor to post-school wellbeing, along with success at pro-social values. Success at enacting pro-social values in Grade 12 predicted post-school positive affect, controlling for earlier positive affect; that is, final year high school students who had actively valued and lived according to pro-social principles were the happiest as young adults.

Consistent with recent findings in positive psychology, we found that life satisfaction was antecedent to post-school values. Participants with the highest life satisfaction in Grade 12 found more values important, attempted to put more values into action, and reported greater success in living according to their values one year later. Grade 12 values did not predict post-school well-being once baseline well-being was controlled.

People with strong pressure on their values were no less likely to find those values important or to feel successful in living according to their values. The relationship between success and well-being did not vary according to how many values were activated; those who were striving to put many values into play at once were no more or less likely to be happy than those who were more selective in their goal striving.

Grade 12 life satisfaction mediated the relationships between authoritative parenting (Grade 7 and Grade 12) and post-school values importance and success. Participants who experienced more authoritative parenting in early adolescence were more satisfied with their lives in late adolescence, and reported increasing values importance and greater success in enacting values as they moved into adulthood.


Parenting plays an influential role in values development, even into late adolescence and early adulthood. Authoritarian parenting was associated with difficulties in valuing including feelings of pressure, whereas authoritative parenting was associated with healthy development and internalisation of values. Parents who consistently provided structure, warmth and autonomy support were more likely to have well-adjusted adolescents who found values more important and were better able to put values into play in their daily lives.

Valuing and valued action were associated with increased well-being over a variety of values types. Stimulation and pro-social values were especially relevant. Global indices of valuing were correlated with well-being. Young people who increasingly put values into play, and felt decreasing pressure, reported improvements in well-being. However, once baseline well-being was controlled, Grade 12 values did not predict post-school well-being. Methodological, theoretical and developmental reasons for these findings were discussed.

Residual change in life satisfaction was correlated with residual change in value importance, changes in life satisfaction and negative affect were correlated with changes in perceived pressure, and changes in all three components of SWB were linked with changes in success. Taken together with the ability of life satisfaction to predict the development of values, these findings suggest that poor adjustment in late adolescence may contribute to difficulties in pursuing valued action during early adulthood. Our study offers some preliminary support for recent theorising in positive psychology that experiences of happiness may promote meaningful activity, and has implications for applied work in educational settings.