Study Finds School Shootings More Likely in ‘Culture of Honor’ States

By Debra Viadero — October 20, 2009 1 min read
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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.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.