Insult, aggression, and the southern culture of honor: an "experimental ethnography"

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1996 May;70(5):945-59. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.70.5.945.


Three experiments examined how norms characteristic of a "culture of honor" manifest themselves in the cognitions, emotions, behaviors, and physiological reactions of southern White males. Participants were University of Michigan students who grew up in the North or South. In 3 experiments they were insulted by a confederate who bumped into the participant and called him an "asshole". Compared with northerners--who were relatively unaffected by the insult--southerners were (a) more likely to think their masculine reputation was threatened, (b) more upset (as shown by a rise in cortisol levels), (c) more physiologically primed for aggression (as shown by a rise in testosterone levels), (d) more cognitively primed for aggression, and (e) more likely to engage in aggressive and dominant behavior. Findings highlight the insult-aggression cycle in cultures of honor, in which insults diminish a man's reputation and he tries to restore his status by aggressive or violent behavior.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Aggression*
  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Culture*
  • Hostility
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Male
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Testosterone / analysis
  • United States


  • Testosterone
  • Hydrocortisone