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Periodic Report Summary 1 - HONOR AS MINDSET (Honor as a cultural mindset: Effects on cognition, emotions, and behavior in children and adults)

Summary description of the project objectives
The aim of the project is to provide insight into a neglected cultural axis: honor. In the laboratory, the main objectives are to examine the theoretical assumptions of what honor is, how honor can be activated, and what the downstream consequences are for cognitive procedures (how people think), mental consent (what people think), and behavior.
In the field, the main objectives are to examine how honor mindsets influence children’s social, emotional, and academic outcomes.

Description of the work performed since the beginning of the project
In the first two years of the project multiple studies were conducted. In the lab, the first set of studies tested the mental representation of honor in an embodied form (do people mentally represent honor as up vs. down and right vs. left?), how honor involves gender stereotypes (do people who have honor on their mind judge the visually strong, powerful, and potent stick figure more often as male?), and how honor is related to self-esteem in three different cultural group? A second set of studies tested and validated a set of methods to activate an honor mindset in both adults and children. A third set of studies examined how an accessible honor mindset influences cognition and behavior in both adults and children. A summary of the findings of each set of studies is described next.

Description of the main results achieved so far (Research findings)
The results of the first set of studies provide insight into theoretical assumptions of what honor is. First, we found that regardless of whether it is on one’s mind, honor is mentally represented in space. Specifically, using a lexical decision task we found that honor is mentally located up and to the right, rather than down and to the left. Second, we found that an honor mindset includes gender stereotypes. That is, once honor is activated in individuals’ memory, it increases the likelihood that potent characteristics are perceived as being male (i.e., stick figures that are sharper, taller, have a direct gaze, or have a larger body mass). Third, we found that honor is not necessarily related to one’s self-esteem as the general definition of honor implies “honor is the value of a person in his own eyes”. Consistent with prior work that describes the Dutch and (Northern) European Americans as low-honor groups, we found that none of the honor components were associated with self-esteem in these groups. In the Turkish group, which has been described as a high-honor group, honor integrity was associated with higher levels of self-esteem and family honor was associated with lower levels of self-esteem.

The results of the second set of studies provide insight into honor primes. One way to increase accessibility of an honor mindset is to have people respond to a standard honor values scale that includes various honor components at the start of the study. This makes accessible honor-relevant content, regardless of participants’ own cultural background and the degree in which they agree with the values. Other ways in which we made an honor mindset accessible were guided recall of an honorable situation and vignettes with an honor theme.

The results of the third set of studies provide insight into the downstream consequences of an accessible honor mindset on cognition, emotion, and behavior. In two studies among predominantly Arab-American children (9-12 year olds) we first tested the effect of an accessible honor mindset on emotional experiences (shame, guilt, anger) using hypothetical vignettes. Unfortunately, no effect was found. Second, we tested the effect of an accessible honor mindset on cheating and pattern completions. We found that children in the honor-prime condition cheated less than those in the control condition. Further, priming honor influenced children’s performance on the pattern completion task. That is, priming honor improved performance on items that required hierarchical/ordinal thinking, but not on items that required nominal thinking. Follow-up studies in adult samples confirmed the finding that accessible honor mindsets increase thinking in a hierarchical/ordinal manner (e.g., good-better-best) and not thinking in an ordinal manner (e.g., I’m good in this, you are good in something else).

The expected final results and their potential impact and use
This project focusing on honor mindsets goes beyond studying individualism and collectivism and beyond studying honor as a culture-specific value that is understood in some societies and not in others. Instead, the final results of the project will have important implications in cultural psychology by showing the accessibility of an honor mindset regardless of one’s cultural background and endorsement level of honor values. We will posit that honor can be perceived as a cultural universal, that relates to the core characteristics of human culture. Moreover, this project goes beyond studying honor in relation to reactions to insults and violent behavior. We focus on the cognitive consequences of an honor mindset. This does not only contribute to the situated cognition field in social psychology, but also has potential societal implications. That is, we show that an accessible cultural mindset (honor) will improve (or undermine) performance on a task if the task requirements (does not) fit the mindset. Consequently, this knowledge may provide insight into why some children (e.g., Arab American children) lag behind their academic performance or respond differently than other children (e.g., European American children) in specific social situations.


Kees van den Bos, (Academy Professor)
Tél.: +31 30 253 3460