"Culture of honor" in some states takes deadly toll on men

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(CBS) "A real man doesn't let anyone push him around." If you agree with that that statement, you're buying in to the "culture of honor" that predominates in some parts of the country.

You could also be putting your life on the line, a new study suggests.

PICTURES - Macho States of America: Where honor turns homicidal

Men who think they should defend their reputation at all costs often resort to violent confrontations or take needless risks, which can lead to injury or death. Think of the man who feels he must not tolerate being cut off on the highway, or who won't back down when someone breaks in line.

"Our study shows that homicide rates are a lot higher in honor states," Dr. Ryan Brown, assistant professor of social/personality psychology at the University of Oklahoma, told CBS News. "And it's not just killing other people. Men in honor states commit suicide at higher rates."

The study, published in the journal Psychological and Personality Science, showed that rates of accidental death from drowning, automobile accidents, and similar causes were significantly higher in honor states - especially among white men.

More than 7,000 deaths a year are attributable to risk-taking associated with the culture of honor, HealthDay reported.

He compared the so-called "honor states" to "non-honor" states, in which the prevailing world view emphasizes not potential threats to honor but the dignity intrinsic to every person.

Which states abide by the culture of honor? In general, Dr. Brown said, those that were originally settled by poor immigrants of Scotch-Irish ancestry. "These people had incubated an honor culture over 800 or 900 years," he said. "They came to this country without much money but brought with them cultural norms that stressed defense of reputation."

But he said it was important for men - and women - to realize that what worked for poor immigrants centuries ago might not be such a good idea in modern-day America.

"When we respond needlessly to people around us, we put ourselves and those around us at greater risk of dying," he said. "Is it really all that honorable to drive recklessly when kids in the back seat?"

  • David W Freeman

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