Why Do Some American States Have a Stronger Culture of Honor Than Others?

Cultures of honor exist all around the world, but probably the main source of the ideology of honor in the United States comes from Scottish immigrants who came over in large numbers during the early to mid-1700s, bringing with them the beliefs and values that they had incubated in the Scottish lowlands over the course of about 1,000 years.

When they arrived in the United States, they came to be known as the “Scotch-Irish,” and they ended up settling largely in the Appalachians down into the deep South, and later into the West. As they settled these areas, their honor-based beliefs and values had a profound influence on the culture of these regions that remains to this day, even though the ethnic identity of the Scotch-Irish has mostly faded from people’s consciousness. Because of this cultural influence, some social scientists refer to states in the South and West as “honor states,” and these honor states exhibit a host of behavioral (e.g., argument-based homicide), attitudinal (e.g., preferences regarding the death penalty), and governmental (e.g., laws concerning self-defense) differences from non-honor states.

Ryan Brown is an associate professor of social psychology at The University of Oklahoma.

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