How Far Would You Go to Protect Your Honor? Probably Pretty Far, Says Study

History is filled with stories of people protecting their honor. Antonino SCIMECA/Flickr

History is packed with tall tales of heroes defending their own honor or the honor of others. Knights have embarked on harrowing quests to achieve it, samurai warriors built their moral codes around it, and countless captains have gone down with their ships to protect it. And yet, some might say that in modern times, honor is a forgotten value.

Or is it? There may not seem to be as many stories of people defending their honor today as there are in history, but a team of researchers from Florida State University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Queensland have found that honor is far from becoming a dying ethos. In fact, they found that modern people will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their own honor or reputation, even if that means facing death, reports

The study compiled data from previous research on pride and honor and found ample evidence of average people willing to go to great lengths to protect their reputations. For instance, a large number of volunteers reported preferring that their hand gets cut off to receiving a tattoo of a swastika on their forehead. In another survey, when people were given a choice between being publicly exposed as a pedophile and being put to death, many of them preferred death.

"High percentages of 'normal' people reported preferring jail time, amputation of limbs, and death to various forms of reputation damage (i.e., becoming known as a criminal, Nazi, or child molester)," wrote researchers in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers then conducted their own experiment, issuing fake tests to volunteers that purportedly exposed the volunteers as racists. When given the choice of making these results public or sticking their hands in a bucket of worms (and other gruesome options), a third of them chose the worms.

In other words, honor is alive and well. The study demonstrates not only that this value seems to transcend history, but that it appears to be an ingrained aspect of human nature. It also offers some explanation for why so many young people are willing to commit suicide when subjected to online besmirching and bullying. Further study could help to unravel the implications of reputation protection for theories about altruism and motivation.

How far would you go to defend your own honor? How much of your own mental health and happiness ride on the status of your reputation?