Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez

(Words cut deeper than swords)

- Turkish Proverb -


With regard to the ethnic/cultural group you belong to (for example: Anglo-American, Asian-American, upper-class Croatian, rural Thais, etc.), how would you choose to answer the following questions?

1. The concept of 'family' includes:

- parents, spouse, and children;

- all extended relations;

- extended relations and deceased ancestors.


2. Misdeeds primarily affects the offender's:

- internal conscience;

- fate;

- public reputation.


Both questions are part of a test design to assess a group’s culture type in terms of guilt, shame, or fear, a topic introduced in a previous post. It is important to understand that while honor, shame, fear, and guilt are tools of social control that can coexist to varying extents in all cultures and societies and can take different meanings depending on the local context (for instance, when a member of a Latin-American or Middle Eastern society is shamed, he may react aggressively by taking revenge on the individual who causes the shame to restore lost honor, while when a member of a Confucian-Asian society is shamed, he may react by committing suicide), the primary orientation of a group is usually shame - often combined with honor - or guilt based (fear cultures are typical of tribal/animistic environments).


Western cultures, mostly individualistic, tend to be guilt cultures (people rely on their inner conscience to tell “right” from “wrong”, rules learnt from parents and other sources of authority are internalized, and, when broken, they trigger a feeling of guilt), while the majority of the world’s culture share a collectivist orientation and do therefore value and emphasize behavior that doesn’t harm the group (“People are interdependent within their in-groups - family, tribe, nation, etc.-, give priority to the goals of their in-groups, shape their behavior primarily on the basis of in-group norms, and behave in a communal way” - Triandis, 2001).

In collectivist societies, the dichotomy honorable/dishonorable is more important than “right” and “wrong”, shame comes from failing to fulfil one’s expected social role (“Honor-shame cultures do have morality, but their basis for defining right and wrong happens to be communal and relational (not legal or philosophical). For them, what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.” Georges and Baker), and truth is a relative concept (“Lying is an acceptable behavior in collectivist cultures, if it saves face or helps the in-group. There are traditional ways of lying that are understood as correct behavior.” - Triandis). [*]

Cultural variations in responses to workplace incivility

The main difference between face cultures (e.g., those based in the Confucian-Asia cluster) and honor cultures (e.g., those based in the Latin-America, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin Europe clusters) can be observed “in their reaction to threats to their worthiness. Face cultures are characterized by stable hierarchies that are essentially cooperative. Status-related roles and boundaries are carefully observed, and direct conflicts are avoided to preserve interpersonal harmony. In contrast, honor mind-sets are argued to be a psychological heritage of more lawless, unstable, and competitive environments, which afford or necessitate stronger norms for both positive reciprocity - returning gifts or hospitality - and negative reciprocity - retaliation for insults or harm (Wasti & Erdas, 2019), which means that in honor-based cultures aggressive and emotional confrontation is more common than in face cultures.


With regard to professional behavior, a 2019 study on workplace incivility (defined as “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect” - Andersson & Pearson, 1999) conducted in Turkey - home to a collectivist, honor based, high power distance culture - concluded that:

- instead of direct and overt incivility behaviors, incivility may take more indirect and subtle forms (e.g., ignoring, not listening) that might pose less risk in social relations;


- Given that in comparison with American workways, East Asian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern workways are characterized by a greater emphasis on relational or affective components, in the Turkish sample exclusion from social activities and omission of greetings were frequently mentioned incivilities;


- Turkish employees reported uncivil behaviors not only from coworkers, but also from supervisors such as the supervisor scolding the employee in front of other employees or not listening to the presentation of a subordinate (the research suggests that “employees inhigh power distance cultures may be less likely to consider being ignored by their supervisor to be an act of uncivil conduct than employees in low power distance cultures. This argument is based on the notion that in high power distance cultures, such as Turkey, it is normative for authority figures to deviate from the norms of mutual respect or fairness without provoking negative reactions from their subordinates. However, in the Turkish context, the notion of respect is not limited to deferential esteem by subordinates toward superiors, but also refers to mutual consideration, appreciation, and kind regard. In honor cultures, it is an injunctive norm that those in higher status protect and bestow warmth and generosity toward subordinates Failure to do so is perceived as incivility by subordinates.”);


- Supervisors’ humiliating or scolding behaviors, whether in public or in private, were perceived as honor threatening, while humiliating behaviors from coworkers were more likely to be appraised as competitive and malicious than honor threatening: insulting behaviors from supervisors threatened the target’s honor, while comparable behaviors from coworkers reflected how dishonorable the coworker was.


On a related note, a similar research conducted among restaurant employees from the Southern (an honor culture) and Northern (a non-honor culture) U.S found that “men from cultures of honor are more aggressive and violent than men from non-honor cultures, especially when confronted with insult and disrespect”, and that “culture of honor is associated with the social construction of masculinity and masculine ideology”. Furthermore, it would appear that “men in cultures of honor more readily perceive personal affronts than men in non-honor cultures, even when those perceptions might be inaccurate”, and that “retributive aggression is especially likely when the initial behavior is perceived as a moral transgression: men may therefore perceive rude treatment from a coworker as deserving of punishment to help restore the balance of justice and their social status”.


Finally, a third study on workplace incivility confirmed that “in honor cultures (e.g., Turkey, Southern U.S.), people are more sensitive to threats to their moral reputation (e.g., being called a liar) than in dignity/guilt cultures (e.g., Northern U.S.), and they respond more strongly to these threats to restore their damaged reputation.”: protection of honor does therefore become a primary goal in honor cultures after insults, while members of guilt cultures are likely to be unaffected by threats to their moral reputation.


To conclude, in honor cultures an individual’s self-worth is usually based on his reputation and his perception of what others may think: retaliation against anyone who insults his honor is somewhat expected, even if it comes at a personal cost (failure to retaliate would be seen as a tacit admission that one is not worthy of honor).

According to some studies, “individuals from high honor groups (e.g., the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America) tend to report more negative emotions (i.e. anger, shame, but not fear) that motivate to defend and protect their social reputation than those from low honor groups. Consequently, these individuals are also more likely to respond with either overt (e.g., physical aggression) or subtle (e.g., gossip) forms of retaliation when insulted or humiliated”.



[*] With regard to individualistic and collectivist mindsets, it’s worth mentioning that a study comparing the reaction of Spanish and Dutch participants to situations that would constitute honor offenses found that Spanish participants (members of a collectivist culture) would anticipate feelings of shame as response to offenses to family honor, while Dutch participants (members of an individualistic culture) anticipated feelings of shame in response to the situation of being depicted as individuals who are not autonomous and assertive (in guilt/dignity cultures self-worth is linked to autonomy and self-interest and one’s own value is not determined by goals and expectations dictated by the group individuals belong to).


Previous articles on guilt/shame/face cultures are available at the following links:


- II/II Why Do We Work So Hard?Introduction to Guilt and Shame Cultures;

- Giving and Losing Face Honour Social Reputation and Networking in Asian Countries;

- II/II National Culture: International Business Strategy and Common Misunderstandings Between The East and The West;

- I/II Social Connections Harmony Consensus Confucian Beliefs and Business Culture in China Japan and Korea;


Further recommended readings:


Dignity, face, and honor cultures: A study of negotiation strategy and outcomes in three cultures

Honor as Cultural Mindset: Activated Honor Mindset Affects Subsequent Judgment and Attention in Mindset-Congruent Ways





- The Culture Test - Jayson Georges - Online:

- Triandis, H.C. (2001). “Individualism-Collectivism and Personality”. Journal of Personality, 69, 907-924

- Georges, J., & Baker, M. (2016). “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials”. Westmont, IL: IVP Academic.

- Wasti, S. A., & Erdaş, K. D. (2019). “The Construal of Workplace Incivility in Honor Cultures: Evidence From Turkey”. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 50(1), 130–148.

- Miner, Kathi & Smittick, Amber. (2016). “Workplace incivility, culture of honor, and aggression: Precarious manhood and the demoralized male”. Culture, Society, and Masculinities.

- Ceren Günsoy, Minjoo Joo, Susan E. Cross, Ayse K. Uskul, Pelin Gul, S. Arzu Wasti, Phia Salter, Andrea Haugen, K. Duygu Erdaş, Afşar Yegin. “The influence of honor threats on goal delay and goal derailment: A comparison of Turkey, Southern US, and Northern US”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 88, 2020, 103974, ISSN 0022-1031,

- Flinkenflogel, N., Novin, S., van der Meulen, A. et al. ”Where to draw the line: honor mindset increases retaliation in response to unfair behavior”. Cult. Brain (2020).

- Rodriguez Mosquera, P. M., Manstead, A. S. R., & Fischer, A. H. (2002). “The role of honor concerns in emotional reactions to offences”. Cognition and Emotion, 16, 143-163 - DOI: 10.1080/02699930143000167

- Rodriguez Mosquera, P. M., Manstead, A. S. R., & Fischer, A. H. (2000). “The role of honor-related values in the elicitation, experience, and communication of pride, shame, and anger: Spain and the Netherlands compared”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(7), 833–844.

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