Cohen et al.'s "Southern Culture of Honor" study

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 09:10:19 PST

I've read the Cohen et al. article recently posted to xmca and have a hard
time believing that anyone could take it seriously. If it had been sent to
me as an external reviewer, I would have recommended that it not be published.

The population studied is a sample of students attending the University of
Michigan. One comparison group was deemed "Northern" and the other
"Southern" by virtue of having spent at least six years of their lives in a
region of states ranging from Delaware to Texas. All, however, were
students at Michigan. So, this study of the "Southern Culture of Honor"
took place in the upper midwest, where I imagine that a person of southern
upbringing would feel out of place. And I would infer from general
population tendencies that northerners (like the researchers, all at
universities in Michigan and Illinois) would not treat this population as
equals in general but as natives of a region characterized by ignorance,
poverty, Christian fundamentalism, and other negative traits (at least to
those making the judgments).

 From a CHAT perspective, I think it's irresponsible and unethical to take
an alien population, subject them to hostility, and then conclude that they
are aggressive. The research methodology is as follows: "In 3 experiments,
[the participants] were insulted by a confederate who bumped into the
participant and called him an 'asshole.'" Among other things, I must wonder
how this study got through any responsible institutional review board,
given the potential psychological impact on an alien being accosted in this

The researchers say that the American Souther has for centuries been
regarded as more violent than the North. "We think the best single
explanation has to do with the South being home to a version of the Culture
of Honor, in which affronts are met with violent retribution." Anyone,
however, who can read a demographic chart knows that the South has
historically been poorer than any other region of the US, and that people
in poverty are more violent than people living in relative prosperity. So
the fundamental assumption that a culture of honor exists in the South
because of higher rates of violence is questionable. Extrapolating that
the Southerners being called assholes in an environment they likely
perceived as hostile are acting out a culture of honor when responding
aggressively is just idiotic.

Peter (who lived for 14 years in the Chicago area and found it pretty violent)

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