Culture of Honor, Violence, and Homicide

Ryan P. Brown and Lindsey L. Osterman

in The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Violence, Homicide, and War

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738403
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Culture of Honor, Violence, and Homicide

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Culture promotes beliefs and values that help its constituents to address local and enduring problems. We propose that cultures that allow and encourage certain forms of violence do so in response to specific ecological problems, namely pervasive resource deprivation and unreliable law enforcement. The convergence of these problems over long periods of time, we argue, results in a social environment that requires vigilant and aggressive defense of reputation, person, and property as a means of deterrence. As an illustration of such a culture, we discuss the history of the Ulster Scots (or Scotch-Irish), who settled the southern and western United States in the 18th and 19th centuries—regions that are characterized even today as “cultures of honor.” We review empirical evidence regarding behavioral patterns in these honor states, with a focus on evidence indicating that residents of these states are not more violent in general but tend to display behaviors related to the vigilant and aggressive defense of honor, at both the individual and collective levels. When such social adaptations become entrenched in a culture's schemas, scripts, and identity dynamics, they can be transmitted from one generation to the next, long after the ecological circumstances that encouraged them have dissipated.

Keywords: violence; aggression; culture of honor; lawlessness; resource deprivation

Article.  11425 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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