The Role of Honor and Culture in Group-Based Humiliation, Anger and Shame

Among collectivistic cultures, Mediterraneans have developed a much more important sense of family as a primary group (Mosquera et al., 2002). The family in these societies is a group that shares a common identity expressed in the concept of family honor (Mosquera et al., 2002). According to Miller (1993), honor in these societies is strongly related to the social image and is concerned with avoiding humiliation. However, a similar concept of honor may also exist among East Asian cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991) and the Southern States of the United States (Cohen et al., 1998) where people maintain interdependent selves, and are highly concerned with saving their social images.

These characteristics of cultures affect the development and expression of emotions (Fischer et al, 1999). Indeed, Mosquera and colleagues (2008) have shown that while the reported intensity of shame did not differ among non-honor-oriented group (Dutch people) and honor-oriented group (Spanish people), their motivational reactions were different: While the Dutch participants tended to withdraw from the personal insult situation, Spanish participants had the tendency to express verbal disagreement.

It is interesting that the difference between cultures is expressed not only in terms of behavioral tendencies but also in how strongly one feels humiliation and anger. In a cross-cultural study conducted by Doosje et al. (2011), aimed at comparing the experience of national humiliation in honor-oriented cultures (Albania and Hong Kong) versus non-honor-oriented cultures (The Netherlands), they found that a dishonoring event concerning the nation leads to stronger humiliation and anger in honor-oriented cultures than in non-honor-oriented cultures. Most importantly, the importance of honor explained this difference. In addition, the participants from honor-oriented cultures reported more aggression than the non-honor-oriented cultures. Specifically, the tendency to humiliate the attacker was reported more often by the Albanian than the Dutch participants, while the Dutch and Hong Kong participants did not differ from each other. Furthermore, the Hong Kong participants reported a stronger withdrawal tendency than the Dutch participants, while the Dutch and Albanian participants did not differ from each other. Evidently, in-group derogation evokes different emotional reactions among people of different cultures. Thus, importance of honor in the social organization of a society has a large impact on the development of emotions such as humiliation, shame and anger.

To conclude, we argue that understanding group-based humiliation and its relation with group honor is important. As we have indicated, the experience of humiliation is highly negative and may lead to a difficult coping process since the value of the self or in-group may be threatened and the relationships with others may deteriorate. By exploring the sources of humiliation, its experience and its implications in different types of social groups and intergroup contexts, research can provide comprehensive knowledge on the conceptualization of this emotion. Moreover, as we have indicated, group-based humiliation is differently experienced in cultures that vary in the centrality of honor values. Therefore, mechanisms developed for understanding and preventing consequences of humiliation should take into consideration the cultural characteristics of the groups.


Cohen, D., Nisbet, R. E., Bowdle, B. F., & Schwarz, N. (1996). Insult, aggression and the southern culture of honor: An experimental ethnography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 945-960.

Cohen, D., Vandello, J., & Rantilla, A. K. (1998). The sacred and the social cultures of honor and violence. In P. Gilbert & B Andrews (Eds.), Shame. Interpersonal Behavior, Psychopathology, and Culture (pp. 225-245). New York: Oxford University Press.

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