Honor and Emotion

Of course, those who care about family do not only respond to threats, but also to affirmations to their family’s reputation. Recently, the cultural bases of happiness for Indian, English, and European-American adults were compared (Rodriguez Mosquera & Imada, 2011). The Indian participants valued family honor more than did the English and European-Americans. We found cross-cultural differences and similarities in predictors of happiness. Personal achievement was a significant predictor of happiness for all participants. However, the good reputation of one’s family only predicted the happiness of those participants who valued family honor the most (Indian participants). The more the families of these participants’ were respected and valued in their communities, the greater their happiness. Taken together, the findings of these studies reveal the profound influence of family honor on emotional experiences, an influence that extends to both positive and negative emotions.

Finally, what do people do when they feel anger and shame about an insult?

The research we have discussed so far describes emotional experiences, but not emotional expressions. We have shown that both anger and shame are relevant emotional responses to insults. But what do people do when they feel angry and ashamed about an insult? Are there cultural or sex-differences in these emotional expressions? These questions are important because shame is an especially positive emotion for those who value honor.

As explained in the introduction, the expression of shame is an expression of apology. We express our vulnerability to others as we disclose our failures and mistakes. Thus, when we express shame, we are telling others that we care about how they view us. Because honor is dependent on a good social image, shame is an especially positive emotion for those who value honor (Rodriguez Mosquera et al., 2000, 2004). It is therefore reasonable to expect that those who value honor highly will do something different when feeling shame about an insult compared to those who value honor less. This question was explored in a comparative study across three different ethnic groups: (white) Dutch, Moroccan-Dutch, and Turkish-Dutch (Rodriguez Mosquera, Fischer, Manstead, & Zaalberg, 2008). In this study, the Moroccan-Dutch and Turkish-Dutch were considered as one group. Although Moroccan- and Turkish-Dutch ethnic groups represent different cultural communities, their responses to insults were virtually identical. Moreover, they valued honor highly and to a similar degree, whereas the Dutch valued honor less.

The participants were asked to report a recent insult. There were no cultural differences in the types of insults reported by the participants. For example, all participants reported insults to their competence (e.g., a derogatory joke about the participant’s intelligence) or insults to their place in relationships (e.g., a friend not wanting to spend time with the participant). Participants felt both anger and shame in response to the insult. This finding emphasizes the notion that emotional responses to insults are mixed and that both anger and shame are relevant to situations in which others devalue us. Interestingly, there were no cultural differences in what the participants did when they felt anger about the insult. All participants criticized, or insulted, the person who insulted them. However, the Moroccan/Turkish-Dutch expressed their shame over the insult differently than did the Dutch participants. In fact, they engaged in opposite behaviors.

The Dutch withdrew from the situation, whereas the Moroccan/Turkish-Dutch expressed verbal disapproval toward the person who insulted them. Moreover, the Moroccan/Turkish-Dutch expressed disapproval of the insulter’s behavior in attempts to protect their reputations. Because social image is very important for those who value honor, shame in response to an insult leads them to do more to challenge the insulter, thereby seeking to improve their honor.


Honor is a complex system of values, norms, and practices. From this complexity, four types of honor emerge: morality-based, family-based, feminine, and masculine honor. We presented research on the nature of these four types of honor in Mediterranean, Northern European, North American, and Middle-Eastern cultures. These studies reveal that each type of honor has profound influences on both negative (anger and shame) and positive (pride and happiness) emotions.

article author(s)