Why are Texan men more likely to be aggressive risk takers, prone to accidental death?: The dangers of a “culture of honor”

Living dangerously: Culture of honor, risk-taking, and the non-randomness of ‘accidental’ deaths”  

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

This study reveals that men sometimes prove themselves by taking risks that demonstrate their toughness and bravery. Putting yourself in peril might establish manliness, but it can also lead to high rates of accidental death, particularly among men who live in states with a “culture of honor,” A culture of honor puts a high value on the defense of reputation—sometimes with violence. It can develop in environments with historically few natural resources, danger of rustling, and low police presence. States with strong cultures of honor in the U.S. are in the South and West, such as South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.

People who most believe in a culture of honor—who agree that “A real man doesn’t let other people push him around” or that aggression is a reasonable response to being insulted—told the researchers they were quite willing to engage in risky behaviors, such as bungee jumping or gambling away a week’s wages. Exposing yourself to potentially deadly situations is proof of strength and courage, and because this proof is such a concern for people living in cultures of honor, they suffer from a higher rate of accidental fatalities.


Two studies examined the hypothesis that the culture of honor would be associated with heightened risk taking, presumably because risky behaviors provide social proof of strength and fearlessness. As hypothesized, Study 1 showed that honor states in the United States exhibited higher rates of accidental deaths among Whites (but not non-Whites) than did nonhonor states, particularly in nonmetropolitan areas. Elevated accidental deaths in honor states appeared for both men and women and remained when the authors controlled for a host of statewide covariates (e.g., economic deprivation, cancer deaths, temperature) and for non-White deaths. Study 2, likewise, showed that people who endorsed honor-related beliefs reported greater risk taking tendencies, independent of age, sex, self-esteem, and the big five.

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Article details
Barnes, C., Brown, R., & Tamborski, M. (2011). Living Dangerously: Culture of Honor, Risk-Taking, and the Nonrandomness of “Accidental” Deaths Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550611410440

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