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Study Finds School Shootings More Likely in 'Culture of Honor' States

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School shootings are more likely to occur in states with a strongly rooted "culture of honor," says a study scheduled to be published this week in Psychological Science.

According to this report, societies that exhibit a culture of honor put "a high premium on strength and social regard in connection with one's person, family, reputation and property." The Mafia comes to mind for me, but the psychologists in this study associate this cultural tendency primarily with southern and western states. The study doesn't include an actual listing of states dripping with a culture of honor, but I bet that would be informative.

For their investigation, University of Oklahoma researchers Ryan P. Brown, Lindsey L. Osternman, and Collin D. Barnes studied data from federal surveys taken in 2003 and 2005 of secondary school students from 42 states. They found that students from states deemed to be high for their culture of honor were significantly more likely than students from other states to report having taken a weapon to school in the previous month—even after researchers adjusted their calculations to account for differences among states in terms of their rural populations, economic factors, temperature, and racial demographics.

The researchers next looked at databases of school shootings compiled over the last 20 years and found that incidences of school violence were more prevalent in these culture-of-honor states than they were in less-macho northern and eastern states. Again, this tendency held up after researchers controlled for the same range of social, economic, and demographic differences across the states.

So what are the implications for schools? If educators and policymakers knew more about how these sorts of cultural patterns play out in school shootings, the authors conclude, "society might keep the list of school shootings from growing at its present rate." More research, of course, is needed.


5 Comments

For background on the "culture of honor" and its roots in the United States, check out David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America.

This plays a huge role in American life, & I would not be surprised to see similar patterns in some local sub-cultures outside of the usual geographic ranges (e.g. inner city Chicago or NYC).

How can anybody take seriously a study that will not reveal the lists that make up its definitions. This could be interesting. Replies and responses and policy reform can only occur when we know who and what we are talking about.

Coincidentally, this research study echoes Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, “The Outliers.” Gladwell examined some of the reasons behind family squabbles that took place in southern states, such as Kentucky and West Virginia in the 1800s. He found that many of these families, including the legendary Hatfield and McCoys, came from areas of Europe where the “culture of honor” was dominant, contributing to some of the extreme violent incidents.

Were any statistics on gun ownership, state gun laws, NRA membership coorelated to these "culture of honor" statistics? I would hypothesize that high culture of honor societies have high gun ownership and freedom of gun ownership laws in place. This would also contribute to the ability to carry out retribution for the perceived personal injustices kids are exposed to.

These are also the findings I reached in my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, released this past April.
Jeff Kass

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  • Mike: Were any statistics on gun ownership, state gun laws, NRA read more
  • Bret Rachlin: Coincidentally, this research study echoes Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, “The read more
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  • CircleReader: For background on the "culture of honor" and its roots read more