Honor and Emotion

Within the general focus on insults and negative emotions, some studies have exclusively studied men and their angry or aggressive responses to masculine honor threats. For example, Cohen and collaborators have shown that White, non-Hispanic men from the Southern United States’ honor culture respond with more aggression to threats to their reputation than do their Northern counterparts (see e.g., Cohen & Nisbett, 1994; Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996; Vandello, Cohen, & Ranson, 2008). Furthermore, Ijzerman and colleagues have shown that Dutch males who value honor highly respond with more anger and less joy to insults compared to Dutch males who value honor less (IJzerman, van Dijk, & Galluci, 2007). In this section, we present research that has adopted a different focus. In particular, we discuss findings from studies that have examined culture and sex-differences in anger, as well as shame, in response to insults. Shame is important to honor because this emotion can be a painful reminder of our image in the eyes of others (Cooley, 1902).

Anger and shame in response to masculine and feminine honor threats

As discussed previously, biological sex seems to be a better predictor of the importance of masculine and feminine honor than cultural background. Biological sex is also a better predictor of emotional responses to threats to masculine and feminine honor. Spanish and Dutch male and female participants were presented with real-life stories that threatened core values of the masculine or the feminine honor code (Rodriguez Mosquera et al., 2002a). The threat to masculine honor story read as follows: “‘You have a partner and you are with this person in a café. Another person you do not know begins to annoy your partner. Your partner reacts quickly and before you can do anything the other person leaves. Others say to you: ‘‘You are not even capable of protecting your own partner.’’ This story described a person who is not tough and strong enough to protect a romantic partner. The feminine honor story, by contrast, threatened the feminine honor core value of sexual modesty by describing a person who is known as having different sexual partners. Participants were asked how they felt in response to the insult embedded in the stories (i.e., ‘others say to you…’).

The male participants (both Spanish and Dutch) felt angrier and more ashamed in response to the masculine honor story than the female participants did. The reverse pattern emerged for the threat to feminine honor story; female participants (both Spanish and Dutch) felt more angry and ashamed in response to this story than did male participants. It is interesting that anger and shame were strongly felt by both male and female participants. Thus, sex differences did not emerge in the intensity of anger and shame experienced among participants, but in the social situations in which these emotions were felt.

Anger and shame in response to insults to family honor

Those who value family honor respond more negatively when their families' reputations are threatened. In the same cross-cultural study mentioned above on real-life insult stories (Rodriguez Mosquera et al., 2002a), the Spanish participants (both males and females) reported more intense shame than the Dutch participants in response to a story on family dishonor. The story described a person who was seen by their community as a disgrace to their family: “You feel rejected by your own family. One of your uncles often makes negative comments about you, such as: ‘’You bring shame on the family.’ Others say to you: ‘‘Even your own family is ashamed of you,’’ This cultural difference was explained by the Spanish participants’ greater concern for the protection of family honor.

Similar findings emerged from a cross-cultural study between Pakistani and European-Americans (Rodriguez Mosquera, Tan, & Saleem, 2011). Participants were asked to write narratives about a real incident in which another person devalued their family. Verbal insults were the most commonly type of devaluation reported by all participants. However, an interesting cultural difference emerged in the intensity of emotional responses. The Pakistani participants felt more angry and ashamed in response to verbal insults toward their family than did the European-Americans. Moreover, the Pakistani participants appraised insults to their families as a greater threat to their own and their family’s honor. In other words, those who evaluated an insult as a threat to honor (the Pakistani participants) also experienced more intense negative emotions.

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