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It's a matter of honor: Why Southerners are more polite
Unlike much of the United States, the South has a culture of honor. While this makes Southerners more polite, it's also something of a double-edged sword.
- Good hospitality and manners are well-known stereotypes of the American South.
- Psychologists believe that the South is so well-mannered because it has a culture of honor, where an individual's reputation is highly valuable.
- To test this, researchers conducted what's known as "the asshole experiment."
According to a survey by Travel + Leisure magazine, New York, Washington D.C., and Boston are among the top five rudest cities. The common denominator? They're from the north of the U.S. Compared to the casual aggression, indifference, and lack of common courtesy you can find in the U.S.'s northern cities, the American South can feel like a breath of fresh air. People smile more, the waitresses call you "honey," elevator rides are (horrifyingly) filled with small talk instead of silence — people seem to have better manners there.
Why is it that expressing an otherworldly opinion is met with "bless your heart" in the South rather than, "What the hell is wrong with you?" What cultural difference accounts for this?
Psychologists Dov Cohen and Richard Nisbett believe they have an answer: "We think the best single explanation has to do with the South being home to a version of the culture of honor." In essence, a place can be said to have a culture of honor if one's reputation is highly valued. If somebody insults you and you fail to respond to the slight, you might start to look like the kind of person who can be taken advantage of. Conversely, if somebody were to insult you and you socked them in the jaw, you would have successfully defended your honor, and people might think twice before behaving poorly around you. The same applies to protecting one's personal property or defending a significant other against unwanted attention.
As a consequence, good manners are a must. If you live in a culture of honor, a certain amount of respect is expected even from strangers. The alternative is that you risk offending somebody, and if they care about their reputation, they might react violently.
There are some real consequences for this. Cohen and Nisbett related how a researcher from 1934 "argued that in much of the South of his day it was impossible to convict someone of murder if (a) the killer had been insulted and (b) he had warned the victim of his intent to kill if the insult were not retracted or compensated." This different way of thinking about violence appears to have persisted. The map below, for instance, shows the homicide rate per 100,000 in 2015. There's a fairly clear demarcation between the places we think of as the South and the rest of the country, barring some outliers like Michigan.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
There's clearly a lot more at work than just the culture of honor: poverty, gun laws, and other factors play a role too. But Nisbett and Cohen conducted an experiment that suggested the culture of honor is very much alive, and damaging somebody's honor can enflame violence.
In what has been called the "asshole experiment," the researchers recruited a sample of Southerners and Northerners for an experiment advertised as one studying the "limited response time conditions on certain facets of human judgement." In the test, the participants were given a phony explanation of the experiment, asked to fill out a survey, and then asked to walk down a narrow hallway to another room, where they were told the rest of the experiment would take place.
But as they walked down the hallway, another individual walking the opposite direction would bump into the subject with their shoulder and call the subject an "asshole." At the other end of the hallway, researchers evaluated the reactions of the subjects. Overall, Northerners tended to seem more amused by the encounter, while Southerners tended to become angrier.
This is clearly a subjective evaluation, so the researchers also measured the participants' cortisol levels — it's a hormone associated with stress — and testosterone levels before and after the altercation. Southerners' cortisol and testosterone levels rose 79 percent and 12 percent respectively after the bump compared to Northerners' 33 percent and 6 percent respectively.
The researchers surmised that this physiological and behavioral difference was attributable to the fact that Southerners grew up in a culture of honor. Without a sense of how valuable a reputation can be, Northerners tend to shrug off insults — and it's likely they're ruder to each other, too. But in a place where honor and reputation are highly valuable to an individual, people treat each other with more respect, but also with more violence.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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