Study: Southerners More Willing to Use Violence to Protect Country

A new study suggests the “honor ideology” of the South fuels aggressive reactions to terrorist attacks.

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Do southerners love America more than northerners?

The question may be preposterous, but according to a new report conducted by the University of Oklahoma, southerners are more willing to go to more extreme—and violent—lengths to protect the country.

The study—which surveyed white college students from the University of Oklahoma and Penn State University—found that in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, southerners were more likely to wish for the terrorists behind the attacks to be killed.

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According to Collin Barnes, lead author of the study, the southern motives are rooted in the belief of an "honor ideology"—one that champions masculinity and aggression.

In a separate but related study, a pool of white males from the same regions as the previous study were asked to respond to a fictitious terrorist attack on the Statue of Liberty that killed 250 people, with the hypothetical terrorists being of Middle Eastern descent. According to that survey, people who believe men should be tough, strong and courageous were more likely to advocate violence.

They were also more likely to support torturous interrogation techniques for suspected terrorists and to be more vigilant when asked about their likely reaction to a hypothetical scenario in which a fidgety Middle Eastern man walked into a U.S. Post Office with an unmarked package.

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"One high scorer on the honor scale suggested that the only way to deal with radical Muslims is to use nuclear force, paying no mind to collateral damage," Barnes said in a statement. "Another simply said, 'Kill 'em all.'"

Barnes says that the responses don't come down to one's love for their country, just his or her gut reactions to a perceived slight.

"It's more about who is willing to support really extreme military measures, it's not about who cares more," he says.

Honor ideology is generally only seen on an individual level—people who think this way are more likely to believe in capital punishment for murderers or to use physical force to protect a loved one. But Collins says his study is the first to find that the ideology extends to the desire to protect large groups of people or an entire country.

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"For someone who believes in this ideology, a sense of home and property is very important, and they tend to be very reactive to insults and provocations against them," Barnes says. "It's easy to construe acts of terrorism as extreme insults. [Their responses] are partially about defending their home, but beyond that, they feel personally insulted [by the fictitious attack]."

His study also accounted for political and religious beliefs and found that southerners, regardless of beliefs, were more likely to advocate violence.

"It's possible that whites in general might become less hostile if they were exposed to people of different ethnic groups and religions on a more regular basis," he says. "The diversity that is more often experienced in the north could tone down some of their hostilities and aggression."

While there may be more people in the south who believe in an "honor ideology," Collins says it's important to remember there are honor ideologists in the north and people who don't believe in the ideology in the south.

"Although there are certainly regional comparisons, ultimately it's us as individuals who subscribe to these belief systems," he says.

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com