Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large

Honor and dignity divide American society to this day. Here illustrated in the Western classic "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

Honor and dignity divide American society to this day. Here illustrated in the Western classic “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”


I recently read an interesting yet largely ignored study from 2011 by psychologists Angela Leung and Dov Cohen. It’s about honor culture, dignity culture, and face culture. These cultures all deal with the concept of self-worth and how to preserve it when interacting with other people. It seems most countries or regions, possibly all, have one of these cultures, or sometimes a mix of them. In a broad categorization, we find honor culture in most parts of the world while dignity culture (often called guilt culture) is confined to Northwest Europe and the Anglosphere, and face culture to East Asia. Let’s kick things off with a brief introduction of the cultures in question,

Honor Culture

This culture is based on the idea that a person’s worth is based on his reputation. Reputation, in turn, is based on positive and negative reciprocity. This means that in order to be considered honourable you need to repay favors, but also revenge insults, even very small ones. If you fail in these obligations, especially in revenging insults, other people will shame you by laughing or expressing disgust, and your reputation/honor will be ruined. The motivating emotion that makes people do what they are supposed to do is shame. For that reason it’s sometimes called shame culture. People from honor cultures come off as friendly and generous, but with a dark side; they can quickly turn angry and violent if they feel slighted. This culture is masculine and can be found in male subcultures such as the military, student fraternities, in prisons, and among school boys.

Honor culture is the norm in societies where the state is weak and can’t enforce the rule of law properly. You can’t call the police so instead you deter bad people from attacking you by showing that the slightest disrespect will come at a cost. If you combine this with always repaying a favour people know that you are open for cooperation but you won’t be taken advantage of. In short, that you’re a person of honor. This culture is also closely linked to power and influence. The higher up in the hierarchy, the more honor.

Dignity Culture (AKA Guilt Culture)

The dignity culture is characterized by the conviction that all individuals have an inner, inalienable worth. The ideal person of dignity is one who stands by his principles and doesn’t listen to gossip. This attitude will of course not protect your life or property so it requires a state that enforces the rule of law. The person of dignity is less prone to corruption since he follows his internal standards and is less swayed by what other people say. And unless he is at odds with society he will abide the law even when he knows he could get away with breaking it. Because knowing he did something bad will trouble him even if no one else knows about it. The motivating emotion in dignity culture is that of a guilty conscience. This is why it’s also known as guilt culture.

Dignity culture has some obvious advantages. It allows people to be more free and individualistic and it prevents corruption. But it has a weakness in that a person prone to guilt can easily be exploited by someone who isn’t. Like honor culture, dignity culture features positive reciprocity, since most people feel that returning a favour is the good thing to do, but not necessarily an absolute must. It’s often done more like an understanding between two individuals. But there is definitely less negative reciprocity since this culture relies on the rule of law and if you agree to that you’d be breaking your own code if you took the law in your own hands. However, if your principles are in conflict with the law you can break it and maintain a sense of self-worth. In this case you become a prisoner of conscience. This fact also illustrates that dignity is unrelated to power. You can be in prison and have dignity and you can be the president and lack dignity if your principles have been compromised. While honor culture is conservative in nature, the dignity culture is found in liberal democracies. It’s the culture of Enlightenment but its roots are most likely older than that (for more on this see anthropologist Peter Frost’s posts on the subject).

Face Culture

This type of culture is predominant in East Asia and can be a bit elusive to an outsider, myself included. Face is similar to honor in that it’s largely determined by your reputation which depends on the judgments of other people. Shame is the motivating emotion so like honor culture it’s sometimes called a shame culture. But while honor culture enables a power struggle, face culture is intended as a way of cooperating within existing hierarchies. If you deprive someone of his honor then shame on him, but if you make someone lose his face – then shame on you. Face is a way of keeping the peace by helping each other to maintain a sense of self-worth. As such I think you can call it a feminine culture. It’s less competitive than honor and dignity cultures and more concerned with group cohesion. And while honor is determined heavily by your place in the hierarchy, face is also about how well you perform at your station. So it’s similar to dignity culture in that you can maintain a high sense of self-worth even if your role in society is minor. As you might expect reciprocity works like in dignity culture: returning favors is a virtue but getting personal revenge is not ok.

The Culture X Person X Situation Approach (CuPS)

In their study, Leung & Cohen wanted to go beyond a mere look at these cultures, but take into account how they will interact with personal characteristics of the individual as well as with specific situation – the CuPS approach. The point with the CuPS approach is that all three variables influence human behavior so they should all be taken into account instead of treating one as the signal and the others as noise as is often the case. A personality psychologist would for instance view the person as the signal, a social psychologist the situation and an anthropologist might view the culture as the signal. And whatever falls outside their field of expertise would then be the noise. So what does this CuPS approach look like in the study?

Since America is a diverse nation, the authors could rely on American participants to represent all three cultures. The honor group consisted of Southerners and Hispanics, the dignity group of Northern Anglos, and the face group of Asian Americans. While Southerners and Hispanics may seem to differ in many ways they acted very similar in terms of honor and could be combined into one group. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that male and female participants of all cultures were similar enough to be combined into single groups.

The personal characteristic in this study was that of whether a person embraces or rejects a particular culture or not, regardless of whether they are of that culture or not. For honor culture this was measured by having participants view film clips of honor violence and evaluate them (this under the pretence that the study was about violence in the media). Note that this violence was not the extreme honor violence common in the Middle East that the term usually refers to. Instead the clips showed more general situations where insults were revenged in a violent manner. For dignity culture they used a questionnaire regarding the individual’s inalienable worth versus socially conferred worth, the central element of dignity culture, and for face culture they used another questionnaire called the Loss of Face Scale which had been modified to contrast to the other cultures.

The situations Leung & Cohen looked at were one where participants had the chance to reciprocate, more specifically return a favour, and another in which they were given the opportunity to cheat. And this is how it all came together,

Experiment 1: Returning Favors in Different Cultures

As I’ve mentioned earlier, participants were told that the study was about violence in the media. Then every participant was offered candy by an experimenter posing as a participant, thus introducing the favour. This experimenter, or in some cases another undercover experimenter who didn’t offer any candy, then conspicuously dropped a disk marked either “Term paper” or “Softball schedule 2002 – can erase” at the feet of the participant. When the experiment was supposedly over, the experimenter with the disk would ask the participant for directions to another room in the building, claiming to have an appointment there. If the participant didn’t know where the room was another undercover experiment would answer, thus informing the participant of where the person was headed. The experimenter with the disk would then leave the disk in plain view of the participant and head off. This gives us several scenarios: participants could return the disk that was either important or not to a person who had either done them a favour (offered candy) or not. To measure the eagerness to return the favour (or simply help out) they put a sign on the door to the room in question saying the meeting had been move to another location, and other similar complications to get a scale of eagerness to reciprocate.

Embracers and Rejecters

The findings are a mix of expected and perhaps less expected behaviors. The first interaction looked at how endorsement of honor violence related to returning favors in the honor group and the non-honor groups. As you might expect they found that for the honor group, endorsement of honor violence significantly predicted the eagerness to return a favour, but not the eagerness to help out when no one had offered them candy. This is simply saying that people who live in and endorse a fundamental characteristic of honor culture will be more likely to behave according to that culture in other ways too.

But what about the rejecters, the people in honor groups that didn’t endorse honor violence and the people in the non-honor groups that did endorse it? These people were significantly less eager to return favors. So they weren’t renegades who embraced another culture than the one they lived in – since all three cultures hold returning favors as a virtue. Leung & Cohen’s explanation for this result is that people from non-honor groups who endorse honor violence are selfish and immature, something that is in line with the fact that they were less willing to reciprocate. While this sounds plausible it doesn’t explain the contrarians in the honor group. And it makes conforming sound like the only sane option. As if Ayaan Hirsi Ali would have been better off conforming to the local Somali honor culture and not disgrace her relatives with her childish defiance. My guess is that there are many reason people will reject their culture and selfish childishness is just one of them.

The Airy Fairyness of Dignity Culture

Next they looked at the willingness to return a favor in dignity versus non-dignity groups as a function of how much participants agreed with the idea that an individual’s worth is inalienable or if it’s derived from the judgments of other people. In line with previous findings, a belief that all individuals have an inalienable worth predicted a higher willingness to return favors in the dignity group. So yet again, those who reject their culture are not adopting another culture but appear to act selfishly or rationally depending on how you interpret the result. More surprising is that this belief had no effect on willingness to return favors for the non-dignity groups. So for these groups there is no selfish or immature contrarianism linked to holding this belief even though it contradicts their group culture. It’s as if it didn’t matter either way. How can this be? The author’s offer no explanation but my suspicion is that non-dignity groups view dignity ideals either as a bit airy-fairy, or use them as pleasant fantasies without reflecting too much on how they conflict with their own culture. A man of honor, especially in a Western country, may well hold the belief that every human has an inalienable worth until one of them sleeps with his wife and brags about it. Then he finds out that the police may bring justice but it won’t restore his honor.

Experiment 2: Honesty and Trustworthiness in Different Cultures

In this experiment film clips of honor violence were shown to half of the participants (again under the pretence that the study was about violence in the media) to prime or make them aware of this culture. This should, according to the authors, make people from the honor group (who also embrace their culture) more honest and trustworthy since it makes their cultural ideals more salient. This is a rather ballsy assumption since it also implies that honor people living in dignity cultures will act less trustworthy than back home – not exactly a strong endorsement of diversity.

They also hypothesized that rejecters in the honor group would cheat more when reminded of the ideals of their culture (as shown in the film clips). The other half of the participants who didn’t view the film clips were simply thought of as honor people living in a dignity culture, since the experiment is conducted among students at the University of Illinois. For the dignity and face cultures they added another manipulation by offering half of these a piece of gum before the experiment began. Leung & Cohen hypothesized that this would make those embracing their own culture less prone to cheating. This makes less sense to me since at least for dignity culture, the whole point is that you act according to your principles and conscience which shouldn’t be affected by gifts.

Then followed the main part of the experiment, which was a simple word memory test with the possibility to cheat by “accidentally” leaving papers with the words in question in plain view of the participants. A measure of cheating was constructed by a statistical analysis of how many words a person retrieved from the exposed papers.


In line with previous results, people in the honor group who endorsed honor violence cheated less than those who didn’t endorse it – but only if they had been primed. (Those who weren’t primed got to watch the clips and evaluate them after the word test.) Those who weren’t primed had the reverse result: those who did not endorse honor violence were more honest than those who did; in fact, these non-primed honor-contrarians were the most honest participants in the entire study, which is a bit peculiar. This is the reaction of honor people living in dignity culture who the authors at least indirectly assumed would be less honest. I’m personally sceptical of diversity and half of this group is made up of White southerners. But it may hint that some non-White honor groups can adjust to a dignity culture. It’s certainly in line with the fact that the overrepresentation of Hispanics in American prisons is very modest (some 20 percent of prisoners and 16 percent of the population as opposed to 40 and 13 percent for Blacks). As for the non-honor groups, those endorsing violence cheated the most, which again is in line with earlier findings of how rejecters fail to reciprocate. The priming had no effect on these groups, most likely because honor violence is not part of the moral context provided by their culture.

Next, they looked at how dignity and non-dignity groups compared on cheating depending on whether they believed in every person’s inalienable worth and whether they’ve been offered gum before the word test or not. In the dignity group, those who endorsed inalienable worth and were offered a gum cheated less than those who didn’t. Again, I find this odd because the gum shouldn’t make a difference to a principled person of dignity. It may be that dignity culture is more idealized and that it has less impact in actual behavior than the other cultures. The non-dignity groups didn’t cheat more or less depending on whether they endorsed inalienable worth or not – and they were also unaffected by the offer of the gum, something I would have expected to find among those in the honor group who embrace their culture.

Finally, they looked at how face and non-face groups compare on cheating depending on whether they embrace face culture (as measured by the modified Loss of Face Scale) and whether they’ve been offered a piece of gum or not. In the face group, those who embraced their culture and were offered a gum cheated very little, almost on the level of the honor-contrarians I mentioned earlier. At the same time those who didn’t embrace their culture and were offered a gum cheated the most of all categories. Not sure how to interpret that. For non-face groups there was a slight difference between those who embraced face culture and those who didn’t in that again those who embraced their own culture (here by rejecting face culture) were more honest.

Culture as Personality Writ Large

So what can we make of all of this? For Leung & Cohen the answer to this question seems to be that culture and personality are separate entities, that personality will predict one behavior in one culture and another in the next. Here is their summary (the call the cultures “cultural syndromes”,

It is important to understand individual variation in a cultural context. Culture is important because it helps define psychological situations and create menaingful clusters of behavior according to a particular cultural logic. Individual differences are important because individuals vary in the extent to which they internaliz or endorse (or reject) a cultural syndrome.

While this sounds plausible it still doesn’t prevent culture from being personality writ large in the sense that traits common among a group of people will lead to a consensus on how to behave. That if for instance cautiousness is a common trait among East Asians, they would seek to avoid conflicts by always being polite and show respect, and when a conflict is a fact they would easily agree to resolve conflicts by appealing to figures or institutions of authority or the law rather than retaliating themselves with the risks that involves. And that would explain face culture. This makes perfect sense regardless of the existence of some rejectors.

Similarly, if the trait of clannishness or tribalism, the tendency to be loyal to your own group, is more common and cautiousness is less common, then the highest authority will always be your own family or tribe. So the state will be weak and unable to resolve conflicts while people will not hesitate to settle their conflicts head on. Also when the state is weak it will be hard to cooperate using contracts so it will make sense to be generous in returning favors as a way to build trust among friends. And that would be honor culture.

And if clannishness/tribalism is a rare trait and a sense of being principled and individually responsibe is common? Then it would make sense to rely on those principles to resolve conflicts because most people agree on what these principles are and a consensus culture of dignity could arise from that. Cautiousness would then become a neutral trait irrelevant to these cultures. Swedes and Norwegians are for instance much more cautious than Danes but all of Scandinavia is clearly dignity culture.

This is not to say that culture doesn’t affect human behavior, merely that it most likely is personality writ large in that the traits of the culture correspond to the average levels in the respective populations. There is always going to be plenty of individual variation so that the consensus culture will clash with the personality of the individual so we need both variables (as well as that of the specific situation) to explain human behavior.

This is in fact what the study itself suggests. There isn’t much social control in America and yet even today young students from the South hold on to their honor culture. How can that be if the ideal of this culture isn’t something they have within themselves? Something that affects behavior while being highly heritable and stable over the lifespan? And why are there so many Asian Americans holding on to face culture even though they live in America which has the most dominant culture in the world? How can Korean comedian Bobby Lee make a career with the simple shtick of acting as non-face as possible? And has any country or region ever changed from one of these cultures to another without the help of large-scale migration? Not that I know of. And yet culture which is less obviously linked to personality traits changes wildly. Fashion, literary genres, and the type of food we eat can change from one year to the next. Meanwhile dignity, honor, and face stay the same through the centuries. What other factor than human nature, innate tendencies – that which we call personality – prevents these cultures from changing?

It’s like hbd chick* insists, that “different peoples are different.” And the way they are different is in the same way as individuals differ from each other: by displaying different personality traits. The more common traits will inevitably become influential in deciding how we behave socially, and the different patterns of behaviors that emerge in different populations, due to these influential traits, may be called cultures. But they are really just personality writ large.




39 Responses to Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large

  1. JayMan says:

    Great post! Interesting insight.

    My only two comments, first, have you seen my latest post (which seems quite relevant)?

    Predictions on the Worldwide Distribution of Personality | JayMan’s Blog

    Second, I seriously doubt the guilt culture of modern Germanics pre-dates the Middle Ages. Seems like backwards projection to me. There are some interesting questions, like why it is Germanics – and only Germanics – that have these features, but I think we need to be mindful about assumptions on the nature of peoples of the distant past.

    • Staffan says:


      I’ve was just reading your posts; I’ll get back to you about that on your blog.

      As for the age of these cultures, I can’t say I know for certain, it’s hard to know what to make of Frost’s evidence. I think it can be older than medieval; think about the Greek tragedy from 400 bc or thereabout, about the woman who felt guilt for exposing her newborn. But I haven’t seen anything similar in Germanic culture.

      • JayMan says:

        I believe hbd chick talked about Ancient Greece. There’s probably not continuity between Greece and the Germanic world today. But, there could have been people with similar traits in previous eras.

  2. Gottlieb says:

    The formation of three cultures corresponds to the primary error that humans continue to practice and explains the countless genocides throughout the history of life on Earth has killed thousands of non-human species, if not millions, as well as many human populations.
    When you follow only one path, with time, their strategy is to become obvious, especially if your group is unusual in this regard, as with northern Europeans, so the ease of predators infiltrate and exploit these nations becomes much greater than if they were competing as equals.
    All 3 cultures socio-collective personality, would work perfectly well if they unite, removing each valid point and logic of each.

    One thing that came to mind today, would be able to relate the chronological brain plasticity and the final formation of personality. It seems that many young Westerners are romantic idealists during their periods of youth, but they tend to become conservative when advancing age. (idealism = neotenic trait)
    It seems that brain plasticity primarily relates some aspects of behavioral neoteny.
    One mistake I’ve seen in a comment on the blog Jayman is about neoteny and the black populations of Africa. It seems that has been proven, especially after the exceptional work of mister Rushton, blacks tend to mature faster than whites and yellows. The behavior of most of them reminds us of children, but in fact the behavioral neoteny seems to relate more capacity for cooperation (not competition) and rejection of violence than with much of the average behavior we found in these populations. But perhaps a separate analysis of the presence of neotenic behavioral traits in different populations is necessary, but I am of the opinion that if the archaic populations are closer to primates, then they are generally less neotenics the most advanced populations . (average black kid behave equal to adult black):
    It would also be interesting to analyze people’s faces where for example, those with wider faces would be more able to express more complex and difficult to interpret emotions while people of lower intelligence are less able to handle the emotional perception of people. It is understood that the most intelligent people would also be best in handling, whether they are good or to manipulate words and numbers, why not the situational contexts of everyday life?

    The idea of ​​the size of the face can have an impact because they tend to have lower faces closer facial muscles, while for larger faces, the trend is reversed. This would also explain why many impulsive and low intelligence people tend to have small foreheads. Of course this is statistics are averages, but it would be interesting to analyze.

    About the distant past of the people who spoke Jayman. Looks like we have to go back to Adam and Eve from each population to understand their most basic behavioral, as the Asian pragmatism and European creativity.

    • Staffan says:

      The movie is about how honor and dignity could unite but I fear that is a fantasy. You could have a mix but that’s probably unstable and not necessarily a good thing. I believe Sweden has a bit of face culture in that there is a lot of emphasis on agreeing on everything. If anything it makes us even more vulnerable to exploitation.

      Also, not everyone preys on dignity cultures. Southerners and Hispanics seem to avoid that type of behavior, as opposed to say gypsies who have turned it into an artform.

  3. Gottlieb says:

    Yes , I know it’s a fantasy , because most of humanity would be able to secure this type of society. As a result , we should find a way to make humanity biologically evolve to the point that he could do it , but I have the impression that is already being done . It seems that modern Enlightenment continue with their old plans to create a new human species . I collected this conclusion of a text on the positivists , on the blog of Henry Makow , where the plane would slowly eliminate the man aiming to rebuild humanity completely . Also removed an excerpt from the speech of President Reagan , I think it was he who said , about ”the need to make a new human species”.
    And finally, a cartoon that virtually the synthetic than is Satanism way shows such as defining as the creator of mankind . In the drawing , Satan says he likes to play to create human then destroy them when their creation deteriorates .

    It is interesting to see the case of Iberian Gypsies. As far as racial mixing took place between them and the Spaniards. The malé culture would result some racial mixing with the Iberians who may have produced original or creative culture? Or will many creative Spaniards were responsible for the worldwide popularization of gypsy culture? Does the Iberian Gypsies are like the Ashkenazi Jews are the Jews of the Arab world, as compared to roma gypsies of eastern europe?

    • Staffan says:

      The difference being that Ashkenazis being at the top and gypsies of all varieties are at the bottom. So the selective pressures on these groups must have been different from each other. But honor cultures seem to cling to their traditions and uniqueness stronger than dignity cultures. When we think of typical American music we think of the country music originated by the Scotch-Irish. The Dutch, English, Germans etc never left a mark of that kind.

      Nice clip btw, I can’t imagine why someone would not want children to watch it ; )

      • Gottlieb says:

        Yes , your observation is very pertinent . Part of my idea of ​​two types of culture, is another phenotypic and genotypic is . Phenotypic culture is basically the creative culture , is where creativity is not only tolerated but widely used . Creativity needs to develop specific biological and environmental factors . The mix of people seem to have an effect on it . So spoke the Iberian gypsies . They seem to be of a different strain of the Roma , who are definitely outrageous in most of their social , cultural aspects , if we can call , live like sewer rats , as a proper way of life.
        Creativity is fluid , never stop, but is always in motion and high level is even more transcendental , is like the wind . Emulates the extreme personality of genius.
        Already in a genotypic culture where emphasis is given on the selection of inter – ethnic genes , creativity is used to design and improve the ethnic culture , to be drowned soon after . See the Chinese , ancient culture .
        Thus , creativity serves to build the culture and then it becomes domesticated to serve the ethnic context.
        The culture is based on phenotypic selection of complex phenotypes .
        I also do not understand why this cartoon can not be shown to children , almost all drawing nowadays has a little Satanism . Satanphobia , a mental illness that needs healing .(
        If I ever have a daughter, I call her Pandora, I have passion for this name. Only I will not give her boxes as gift. Pandoras and boxes do not get along very well.

        The destruction of the West is when the creative geniuses are released to rule nations. Their minds are so high for anything below level of cognitive exceptionality. As they fly their follies without feet on the ground, the populace can not understand the complexity of their” proposals”.

  4. Gottlieb says:

    According to wikipedia, the Roma seem to be overrepresented in certain types of crimes. Well, considering the recent influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, I would not doubt that most of these statistics refer to the Roma gypsies.
    Although many Iberian gypsies are these statistics, it is still remarkable its cultural achievements. You could say that a good part of Spanish culture, including high-level, as classical music, is derived or inspired by gypsy culture.

  5. Gottlieb says:

    Honor and dignity are practically the same thing, at least in my language. Are as synonymous.
    But as I understand both the biological substrates of human morality. In collectivist societies, there is a strong pressure on the individual to conform to it, a paradox, the individual (who does not belong to the cultural collective) is the central theme, the patient being renovated by collectivism. The honor is in first person, in himself.
    This would already dignity as a moral vision based on the relationship between two or more individuals. It is the perspective of the individual in response to the other. The shame and humility are important components of performance there.
    Corruption is fundamentally bad for the culture of dignity because it relies on exactly breaking this trust and harmony. Note that currently, most corporate culture of dignity are governed by people who belong to the category culture of honor.
    Brazil is a mixture of cultures, which probably, in some states the culture of honor takes precedence over the culture of dignity. The culture of dignity emphasizes equality because it is based on reciprocity of treatment without subjective factors such as common ethnicity. The reciprocal treatment is objectively the same way that rain is objective in watering the earth.
    The culture of dignity seems to be a middle ground between the culture of honor and culture of the face, Oriental, where the cultural conformity is dominant. Europe is a mixture of types of cultures such as Brazil, but here, the IQ is low and ‘happy’ness’ is wide.

    • Staffan says:

      By corporate culture I assume you mean Jews, but this group is half dignity and half honor so it’s complicated. Corporations themselves don’t fit any of these cultures. As many have pointed out, they mostly behave like psychopaths.

      I don’t think dignity should be viewed as something between honor and face. The most important distinction, in my view, is that of external versus internal control. Honor and face are both external shame cultures. But East Asians have faced longer periods of scarce resources which has forced them to be more peaceful and cooperative.

  6. Gottlieb says:

    I mean society, not the corporation , lol .
    I see the culture of dignity as a half way to the culture of face. Leaving what you said now , in times of scarcity , cultural and social compliance is important . It is important to group unity when it is the worst . Creativity tends to divide the nations , because it has its own demented way and without rest or a place to settle down.
    What is also interesting is the Asian population , which since millennia , is quite large . Creative people besides having a warm personality and fluid , also tend to pay for it as the reduction of fitness . We know now that the incidence of mental disorders among those who have very high IQ scores , especially when only one component is analyzed as verbal , tend to have more than twice as likely to develop psychopathology , particularly mood disorders .
    Instead, we see that engineers are generally well mental health , we may say so . Much of the eastern high IQS are more like engineers among other super- normal , high IQS West.
    Creativity is a complex trait heterozygote , with costs for those who inherit their derivations flow -blown .
    The presence of creativity, which is nothing more than the presence of anomalous brains, can be traced by the presence of several biological traits and conditions, such as higher incidences of cancer, diabetes, more variable laterality, neuro-minority conditions. Are the genes or the lack of them that provide random in nature, ie, more random as the design or conception itself is already by itself this way.
    We can see these cultures as well as levels of tolerance for creativity. I see the culture of dignity as a middle ground, because the human complexity must always take the middle ground, the clash of two cultures or their non-symbiotic coexistence. So I see the culture of the face such as increasing the shame component. Herself Asian personality is stuck in shame.
    So I find it funny when I hear some defeatists like Liynng when he says that the torch of civilization will last for Asians. If they do not understand how is the biology of creativity, they will be the last to turn out the light.

    • Staffan says:

      I would say that dignity is closely linked to creativity because even if you have creative people the other cultures won’t let them flourish. If they don’t just give up they emigrate to the West. This is especially clear with the Chinese moving to America. The majority of Chinese Nobel laureates have made this journey.

      • Gottlieb says:

        This also relates to the momentum of creative people to migrate to other regions. It is known that genes adhd are related to migratory behavior.
        Do not do to others, what you would be done with you.
        I hear it all the time and I agree but there are ”exceptions” very significant as the sterilization of stupid people, and especially those with phenotypic combinations that predisposes to criminal behavior because there are stupid people who are not criminals, they are only cognitively or intellectually stupid.
        The word dignity resembles a reduced word of honor, where only the core of the person, ie, their dignity is maintained.
        Dignity would like an objective honor, while the honor would be culturally subjective. It is an overly adorned dignity. When the central concept of an objective word is extended, it loses its original value, which is almost always simple and easily understood.

  7. Matt says:


    As described here, the distinctions, seem to be –

    1) Dignity vs Face – persons are wholly assumed to have an internal moral worth and core, vs a wholly external or relationship based moral worth. This is simply individualistic vs collectivist value attribution.

    Under an Honor culture persons can have both or either (honor is internal and/or external), and it’s doesn’t seem important to the definition, much.

    2) Honor vs Dignity and Face – in an Honor culture a person can act as a personal punisher of breaches of their moral sense, while in a Dignity or Face culture, they cannot, instead a hierarchically superior agent of some kind (either a superior person or “the state”) must.

    As the authors state, contrasting honor with other systems “(Cultures of honor) arise in contexts where the state is weak – where there is no effective law enforcement, no mechanism to guarantee contracts, no police to prevent predation, and no justice system to punish the guilty”

    So why not just have two orthogonal axes here, Personal:Public Morality and Personal:Public Punishment, rather than three “poles”, especially as their poles are “idealised types”? A three pole model would only be a useful model if we were modelling three maxima which were in competition (e.g. Hispanic admixture, where American Indian, African and European ancestry are essentially modelled as independent factors, but the sum of all cannot exceed 100%).

  8. Staffan says:

    Dignity is clearly more individualistic and face collectivistic but these are not synonymous terms. Honor culture is never internal worth; it’s a shame culture just like face. The only difference is how you settle scores, through authorities or personally.

    Not sure I advocated a pole model here, I was simply trying to describe the types. We can of course use the axes you mention, although it doesn’t capture the fact that honor and face cultures also link a person’s worth to his social status and power.

  9. Matt says:

    The authors here state it as “In a culture of Honor, honor is both internal and external; it must be claimed from and paid by others. Honor is “the value of a person in his own eyes, but also in the eyes of his society. It is his estimation of his own worth, his claim to pride, but it is also the acknowledgement of that claim … his right to pride” “.

    That’s what would lead me to think of honor as having has both internal and external elements of judgement and order, and being mainly distinctive from both the other two, rather than intermediate, by the personalistic aspect to punishment (lacking in Conscience/Dignity and Face, cultures of law / hierarchy).

    advocated a pole model here, I was simply trying to describe the types.

    Sure, I’m just wondering aloud what the simplest and most all encompassing broader model to think about these cultures is.

    although it doesn’t capture the fact that honor and face cultures also link a person’s worth to his social status and power

    Those seem like consequences that relate to private enforcement and collective judgement generally favoring the powerful more, rather than primary qualities (i.e. where the powerful can use their resources for personal purposes, they end up with higher status and where the powerful can influence the mass, they have higher status), but yes, that’s true, that could be obscured.

  10. Staffan says:

    I’m not sure why the authors claim that because the only internal quality of honor that they describe is the persons estimate of his worth – but that estimate is exclusively based on reputation, so ultimately it is all external. I can’t find any example of internally derived self-worth in either honor or face culture. This is probably also why you find a fair amount of corruption in face culture too – because external value means behavior is not guided by conscience but by what others think. (And another part of it is clannishness, which means that you external source of self-worth comes from family.)

    “Sure, I’m just wondering aloud what the simplest and most all encompassing broader model to think about these cultures is.”

    Me too. Only I suspect that internal/external or conscience versus shame is the fundamental divide here.

    I’m not quite sure how to sort it out but the way Jung and probably to a large extent the MBTI defines introversion is as something similar to individualism, the degree to which a person thinks of others as relevant to his own thoughts and behaviors. This may seem like flawed definition but plenty of people who claim to be introverted are sociable and vice versa. It may be that the Big Five and HEXACO fail to capture this and that most reserved East Asian should really be considered extraverted.

  11. Matt says:

    the only internal quality of honor that they describe is the persons estimate of his worth

    This seems maybe to relate to the nature of punishment. External moral attributions and reasoning “distant” from the self also seem to be given little importance in honor cultures.

    In a situation of personal enforcement, a person will adapt (genetically or culturally) or have been adapted to consider only themselves and immediate others as subjects worth moral decision. It would be worthless to consider further, as individuals have no business in enforcing moral decisions wider than their immediate person and family.

    A situation of depersonalised enforcement is only possible where people have the inclination and capability to consider remote subjects (depersonalised enforcement may connect to intelligence for this reason). A situation of depersonalised enforcement also requires and creates moral “busybodies” because any person may be called upon to consider any moral decision, although in reality this varies by the local hierarchy and how “open” this is.

    We can could look at in the situation of our own societies, at the far extreme of Pinkerised removal of personal enforcement in favor of public enforcement. Anyone feels fit to opine on pretty much any moral issue, and will often dedicate themselves to various issues movements and influencing the enforcement hierarchy, despite not having much actual moral or historical understanding or in fact any personal experience of or stake in the issue in hand. (This seems to mix up with culture of honor personal enforcement and group and self protection values in a particularly dysfunctional way in those cultures that contains groups with both, where each group both wholly misunderstands the others’ motivation or behavior and sets about using one another.)

    I’m not quite sure how to sort it out but the way Jung and probably to a large extent the MBTI defines introversion is as something similar to individualism, the degree to which a person thinks of others as relevant to his own thoughts and behaviors.

    Interesting definition. I think it would be an odd fit in that the people who are most socially involved, so in a sense have other people as most relevant to their behaviors, are the most socially confident and so often take the least cues from others in terms of their opinions. Those who are secure in a social environment are those who are most confident in their opinion. But we’ve discussed this before and the distinctions you’ve brought up before (IIRC that simply having a social orientation leads to being influenced by others) and the pros and cons of the lexical hypothesis vs the MBTI, which are still interesting.

    For East Asians, the impression I often have (whether this is accurate) is of people who feel high degrees of importance on the opinions of others (to shame and respect or face if you like), combined with attenuated ability to sense emotions of others or be “in feeling” with them. So this makes them extremely good at learning and relying on the social codes of what is considered respectable and shameful, ignoring emotional cues that distract from this and apt to put a lot of effort into detecting the status quo of who is considered respectable or shameful and to treat it seriously.

    I don’t know if I would call this introversion or extroversion, but it does not seem a million miles away from a much milder version of certain forms of social behavior within autism and would seem to be extroversion in the MBTI/Jungian definition you have presented.

    • Staffan says:

      It’s always going to be a matter of definitions until we can identify the biological mechanism that no doubt underly these differences. At that point I think the definitions will suggest themselves. I have a suspicion that Eysenck was right in linking introversion/extraversion to wakefulness and attention even though this difference may not match the words introversion/extraversion perfectly. Perhaps attention is a more fundamental trait underlying and modulating various of the more commonly known traits like introversion, neuroticism, and impulsiveness.

      • panjoomby says:

        your comment is worth a whole blog post itself – H. Eysenck uncovered a lot (thanks data! which these “culture” studies need more of) – but Eysenck could’ve “factored in” (little joke) game theory – frequency of different traits within a population (serious:)

        what keeps everyone from fixating at all E or I – it’s advantageous to the population to have both, even though it’s advantageous to the individual to be but a single point on the distribution. the only thing that matters is what’s advantageous to the individual. so how do these frequencies get worked out?

        agreed, culture is just “genes expressed” (combined with the tradition of those genes expressed). so, do we avoid fixation b/c most spots along the personality trait(s) distribution(s) have some advantage – like rock, paper, scissors – when it comes to evolutionary fitness?

        as scotty (douglas spencer) said in the 1951 movie ‘the Thing’ (from another world), “the mind boggles.”

      • Staffan says:


        There are a lot of theories of how variation of personality traits is maintained. As you mention, one important factor is no doubt frequency-dependence. A plausible case has been made for this regarding psychopathy. They thrive when they are few so the frequency of those alleles are kept low. There are no doubt other traits under this type of selection (perhaps all to some extent).

        Then there is the controversial group selection. A group with a few neurotics could have been beneficial in ancestral times because they could warn the rest who then didn’t have to expend the same amount of energy (the fight/flight response consumes plenty of energy). I know some don’t believe in this type of selection but it makes sense to me. A funny example I read somewhere (you may have heard of it) is how egg producers breeded on alpha females because they were the individuals who layed most eggs. But cages with all alphas had a lot of conflicts and few eggs. They then bred on all the hens in the most productive cages instead and that worked fine.

        And finally, there is the fact that we seem to live in a social environment (probably more important than the physical environment) that is in constant change. That will keep the advantages of certain traits from becoming fixated. Even intelligence as we know it today may be affected by this fact – the degree to which a person is empirical or theoretical, pragmatic or visionary etc, may be more or less advantageous depending on the (varying) social environment.

  12. Gottlieb says:

    I recently saw a study where it was found, can not remember the size of the sample, 30% of the population has autistic traits. This could explain why autism continues to exist in the population, even though they carry the full expression low fertility rates.
    It seems that the genes for ADHD were much more common in the human population than today. At least that’s what I did after reading the work that relates genes to inter-continental human migrations.
    This applies to the theory of Annett and to my” idea” about phenotypic combination of parents produce the majority of the minority neuroconditions working like puzzles.

    • Staffan says:

      Autism may well be a new development related to Northwest European weirdness (anyone know a better term for it?) whether a consequence of outbreeding or not.

      As for ADHD, which seems to be identical to impulsiveness, there might be a selective pressure against this trait given the outcomes it is linked to – drug abuse, accidents, low education etc.

      But as I mentioned above, the social environment and the selective pressures it creates seem to be in constant change.

      (I’m not familiar with Annett’s theory but I’ll have a look at it.)

  13. Gottlieb says:

    Some theories suggest that autism is actually a set of atavistic phenotypes . Do you know of any work that has found genetic evidence in fossils that might support this theory?
    Unlikely that autism is just a northern European genetic novelty, because it is present in all continents ( and much less in sub-Saharan Africa ) .
    Well changes in the atmosphere can have an effect on the selection process . The highest incidence of weirdos may also explain why more has been born autistic . I ‘ve been wondering vaguely if climate changes may cause changes in mating patterns and thus , result in increased autism. It seems that there are no historical studies of the incidence of the condition , for example , in the nineteenth century or the sixteenth century .
    I was reading an excerpt available, Cesare Lombroso ‘s book about geniuses , and caught the part where he mentions the mental quasi- retarded , the mountains of Judea as a historical identification of genius or exceptional people . I am of the opinion that autism has always existed , but there were times when most people had no cultural, cognitive and mental conditions , to care for them so much as to create enriched and safe environment for them. Annett’s theory can explain the existence of a good deal of so-called mental disorders, as well as other minority conditions within a specific population.
    I have tried to meet this theory with ”my theory”, ”the theory of the puzzle” that would explain how highly complex phenotypes can be passed from generation to generation. There are two ways of inheriting genes through direct mating, and through the combination of recessive traits. The first process explains the selection of genes, the second explains the phenotypes..

  14. Staffan says:

    I cant recall any such studies. The problem here is that psychiatric diagnoses usually have very low test/retest reliability. Whoever gets a borderline personality disorder can be diagnosed as a psychopath or a schizophrenic the next year. There is also the question of intelligence. I know a highly intelligent person with clearcut schizophrenia who was never diagnosed because she would avoid people and put on a show of normalcy on the rare occasions she had to. Next day she would call on the telephone and scream like the person she really was. So the real diagnose isnt schizophrenia, its schizophrenia and low IQ in combination. That way we get a lot of heterogeneity. I imagine the same holds for autism. This mistake comes from psychiatry and the idea that all these traits are impairments.

    Not sure how climate change would affect mating habits but the internet and the technological development in general probably make aspies more socially adjusted. That alone could explain it and please Occam.

  15. Gottlieb says:

    Well, in the case of climate, completely non-causal a relationship. Climate change may force certain cognitive subgroups to accumulate in certain geographic niches, resulting in mating and manifestation in the next generations of the recessive phenotype or complex phenotype.
    What you said is very true . But in reality , it ends up falling in extreme superficiality that s personality disorders exhibit . I see that psychiatry is a movement that pathologizes behavioral phenotypes that are not socially very pleasant . It’s like well , I do not like something , then I’ll pathologizes it . I do not like to play football, so I’ll turn all those who play football in the mentally ill . I will prove that they are sick through MRIs . You see, the brains of football lovers is configured in a different way compared to scientists , they have a problem , have a brain injury because they are different .
    I’ll repeat , but it seems very clear that psychiatry is a continuation of English Victorian normative movement of the nineteenth century.

    How can an intelligent person having a low iq ? ?

    It seems that the common distribution of IQ scores do not work the same way for those with Asperger’s , high functioning . As I said in the blog of Sailer , brains different from ordinary brains , provision has different functions and will probably have different answers on psychometric tests . The brain morphology contributes to the results of the IQ tests.
    Many geniuses are convergent, are kind of savant. They would be degrees of phenotype of savant syndrome. If the savant, the relationship ”cognitive forces” and ” iq ” is completely null, then it is expected as a logical principle that something similar happens with geniuses derivatives savantism.
    I remember some study on gifted children, especially in the areas of music and the arts, in which a boy scored 108 in his only performance IQ.

  16. […] Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large | Staffan’s Personality Blog […]

  17. taira says:

    Hi! I’m from the Philippines. Thank you so much for this information. Now I know why American-style democracy will never work for us Filipinos. The Philippines has honor culture, which is based on one’s reputation, courtesy of our tribalism and added by the Spaniards and the Muslims. That’s why extrajudicial killings are common, especially from the politicians. Machismo is quite common too. On the other hand, most Filipinos, especially the ordinary ones, have face culture, coutesy of the Chinese and Japanese. When a superior does wrong, most of us will just keep quiet just to avoid humiliation, but not necessarily revenge, like the politicians. In short, my native country has a combination of honor and face cultures, thanks to waves of migration and colonization.

    By learning these concepts of culture, you will know why some areas of the world will prosper and most areas will remain stagnant. It really depends on the culture.

    Also, you will also know that the facial features of people differ per culture. People from honor cultures have masculine features and look like Conan the barbarian and even the females look masculine. People from face cultures have feminine features and look like children. They’re babyface. And lastly, people from dignity cultures have just normal faces, with male and female defined.

    I can say that dignity culture is the most civilized, followed by the face culture. Honor culture is not civilized at all.

    Thanks again for the info.

    • Staffan says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      The situation you describe is as I imagine the culture of a country to be in general: it will reflect the ethnic composition of the countries. Both Spainards and especially Arabs will increase honor culture. And I agree, although honor culture has returning favors as an ideal, overall it is the least civilized culture.

      I haven’t reflected on facial shape being linked to this, other than that East Asian do look somewhat childish and Africans look masculine, even the women. There may be something to that. Definitely interesting.

  18. Offering candy and pieces of gum to college students? It’s hard to take a study like this seriously when the favors are so trivial and the sample population so unrepresentative. Also, how robust was the statistical analysis? Have the same results been independently reduplicated?

    Also, regarding China and Chinese: how they behave in America, with people who are very different than themselves, and in China can be very different.

    I must take this study with a grain of salt.

  19. Staffan says:

    I don’t think the favors need to be big as they serve to construct a situation in which different codes of behavior apply depending on your cultural background. A person of dignity would feel bad accepting a bribe of just 5 dollars; a person of honor can go ballistic for the slightest offense. The behavior is salient even when stakes are low.

    I haven’t found anyone who has replicated the findings but then again it’s a bit of a controversial subject. Hopefully more researchers will man up and look further into this.

  20. […] The primary targets of altruism are kin. Prosociality is maintained through various forms of social honor and shame or at worst, fear of reprisal from the aggrieved or by the state. Dealings between […]

  21. […] in the world. Japan is an “in-betweener” in terms of clannishness, being a type of shame culture like clannish societies but yet having a high level of trust in non-relatives (so long as […]

  22. […] Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large | Staffan’s Personality Blog […]

  23. […] What is responsible for this pattern? Kura, te Nijenhuis, and Dutton blame the difference on a composite of  novelty-seeking, social anxiety, fear of exclusion, and individualism. In their paper, they claimed that “Europeans” (all Northwestern Europeans) were less socially anxious, less fearful of exclusion, more novelty-seeking, and more individualistic than East Asians. Readers here will be familiar with this pattern: these are elements of personality differences as described previously in Predictions on the Worldwide Distribution of Personality, where I discuss variation in global personality in the HEXACO system. Particularly, more individualistic and more novelty seeking are facets of high Openness to experience. Fear of exclusion is an aspect of high Emotionality (and possibly high Agreeableness). And social anxiety is a facet of low eXtraversion. See also Staffan’s post on the Northeast Asian variant of the shame culture, the face culture: Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large | Staffan’s Personality Blog […]

  24. […] of the shame (or honor) culture, where behavior is regulated by societal disapproval. (See Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large | Staffan’s Personality Blog). These are fundamental human differences and are largely intractable in our […]

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