MONDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Psychologists call it the
"culture of honor," a mostly male mindset that places a high value
on defending one's reputation at any cost. But new research
confirms that it's linked with high rates of accidental deaths.
"People who embrace these values also report more risk-taking," explained study author Dr. Ryan Brown, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman.
This dangerous male mindset is also more prevalent among those
living in the South and West, in such states as South Carolina,
Texas and Wyoming, he added.
In two studies published in the current issue of the journal
Social Psychological and Personality Science, Brown looked at the consequences of such thinking.
First, he compared rates of accidental deaths (car accidents,
drowning, over-exertion and so on) in all U.S. states. He found the
so-called "honor states" had higher rates than non-honor states
(such as New York, Ohio, Wisconsin).
More than 7,000 deaths a year can be blamed on risk-taking
linked with the "culture of honor," he said.
The behavior was most common in more rural areas of the honor
states, he found. In the cities of honor states, he found a 14
percent higher accidental death rate than in the cities of
non-honor states. He found a 19 percent higher rate in the smaller
towns of honor states compared to non-honor states.
"In a smaller town, your reputation is much more important," he said. It's likely that everyone knows your business, and that could be good or bad for your reputation, he explained.
In a second study, Brown surveyed 103 college students from his
university, including 79 women.
The participants completed tests measuring how much they
subscribed to the culture of honor, finished a self-esteem test and
answered questions about their tendencies toward risk-taking
behavior. A sample statement to which they agreed or not was: "A
real man doesn't let other people push him around."
The more the person subscribed to a culture of honor, the more
likely they were to engage in risky behaviors, the findings
The effect was there for women, too, Brown said.
He and others have previously noted that this culture of honor
originated with the Ulster Scots (mistakenly sometimes called the
Scotch-Irish) who came to the United States during the 18th
In their homeland, he said, they were herders and were always
being invaded by someone. They learned to protect and defend
themselves, not always in ideal ways. A typical statement, Brown
noted: "You take one of our cows, we will take your whole
The culture of honor behavior persists, he said, despite the
disappearance of the herds.
It has staying power, Brown added, and is fostered through norms
and values about masculinity and femininity. It's the stuff of
country songs, he explained.
That makes sense to Richard Nisbett, the Theodore M. Newcomb
Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of
Michigan. He is the author of
Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the
In the past, Nisbett explained, "if you kept animals for a
living, you ran the risk of having your entire livelihood taken
away [if someone opens the pasture gate, for instance]."
In modern times, "if you stand the risk of losing your
livelihood easily and the state is not around to protect you, you
are going to develop this kind of culture of honor," Nisbett
There's more to it than showing off for women, although that is
part of it, he added. It is also, for a man, showing other guys
While Brown's research and that of others clearly shows that
some states aren't honor states, Nisbett said that the behavior is
kept going partly by the false belief that everyone else subscribes
to the same mindset.
"We tend to think of the culture of honor as historical," said Joe Vandello, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. But, "elements of this culture of honor still exist today."
Simply becoming aware of the phenomenon might help reduce the
behavior, Brown noted. Even though it can become "part of your
programming," he said, "we have a will, we have a choice."
For more on risky behavior, visit the
American Psychological Association.