The Role of Honor and Culture in Group-Based Humiliation, Anger and Shame

Imagine that your national football team has to play against the team of a neighboring country. You are very excited about this event and invited your friends over to watch the game together. When the other team scores a second goal and is winning, you see that the football fans of that team are burning your national flag in the stadium. How would you feel, if that were to happen? What would you think about the football fans of the other team? How would you react?

In such a situation, you may become very angry and ashamed, and it is most likely that you will feel humiliated. Your country is dishonored because your national symbol has been destructed. This is humiliating and you believe that your national team and country did not deserve such treatment. As a consequence, you may also feel the urge to aggress, either verbally or physically.

This example illustrates how feelings of humiliation may be elicited when there is an outside threat to the reputation of important in-groups. In addition to nations, other important groups may be family, churches, army units, departments at the work place, etc. Hence, you could feel intense emotions if you and your parents are the only ones left uninvited to the wedding of your first cousin, or when a member of a religious group with which you strongly identify (e.g., Catholic) has been publicly revealed to have committed an offence (e.g., having sex with minors). The humiliation felt in such situations is a powerful emotion, not only because of the pain it causes with regard to one’s self-esteem, but also because of the implications for in-group relationships. Feelings of humiliation may also influence the relation with other groups (e.g. the relationship between non-Catholics and Catholics after the wrongdoing of a member of the latter group has become public).

Humiliation is thus not only an emotion felt at the individual level, but also in situations in which one’s group is humiliated, and this is the focus of the current paper. The experience of humiliation is highly negative and is elicited when one’s self-esteem is challenged. In some cultures and contexts, this self-esteem extends to one’s reputation, one’s self-esteem in the eyes of others. Individual honor is generally defined as the value attributed to the self, based on both how people see themselves and what others think of them (Pitt-Rivers, 1965, 1968, 1977, as cited by Mosquera et al., 2002). Honor also occurs at a group-based level, however, when it is shared by a group of people who are related to each other (Mosquera et al., 2002). In attempting to restore one’s honor and to prevent humiliation, people may engage in psychologically and physically violent behaviors that damage social relationships. Thus, humiliation should not only be regarded as negative for oneself, but especially negative for intergroup relations.

Yet, very little is known about the causes and nature of humiliation in intergroup contexts, and its relation with group-based honor. Is humiliation caused by in-group derogation, a threat that leads to intergroup conflict? The current paper will provide a review of the literature on group-based humiliation, with the aim to examine whether humiliation is more likely to be elicited in honor-based cultures than in other cultures.

What is group-based humiliation?

In everyday language, we use the word humiliation in two different ways. First, we use it to refer to an act or situation that degrades another person or group, for example insulting or publicly threatening the reputation of a person or a group. Second, the word humiliation is used to refer to the emotion associated with being downgraded by someone. It is then defined as “a deep dysphoric feeling, associated with being, or perceiving oneself as being unjustly degraded, ridiculed and put down – in particular, one’s identity has been demeaned or devalued” (Hartling & Luchetta, 1999, p. 264). In case of group-based humiliation, it is the in-group identity that is demeaned and devalued. Similar to other group-based emotions, group-based humiliation is influenced by intergroup relations and may be the result of an appraisal of group-based threats or attacks from out-groups (Mackie et al., 2000).

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