Psychologists have discovered that people will do some pretty extreme things to protect their honor, after subjects were asked a series of bizarre "would you rather" questions.
The study found that volunteers were willing to submerge their arms in worms and endure pain in order to prevent the researchers from publishing fabricated information about the participants that suggested they were racist.
In the study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, psychologists first looked at data from four previous studies, including the World Value Survey – a survey from 100 countries that investigates human beliefs and values, and how they change over time.
One survey they looked at asked people questions such as "would you rather have a swastika tattooed on your forehead or have a hand cut off?" This line of questioning was meant to gauge how far people would go to protect their pride.
The survey found that 70 percent of people said they would rather have their hand cut off than have a swastika symbol tattooed permanently on their forehead.
The researchers also found that a high percentage of normal people would prefer jail time, limb amputation, and even death to different types of reputation damage (e.g. becoming known as a criminal, Nazi, or child molester).
When asked the question below, for example, 53 percent of participants said they would rather die on the spot.
The team, from Florida State University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Queensland cited other extreme examples from history of people defending their honor, such as captains who chose to go down with their ship rather than face shame afterwards. The team concluded that people are far more motivated to protect their own reputation than perhaps expected.
To back up these previous studies, the team conducted their own follow-up research. They asked a group of volunteers to take a test to "asses whether they were unconsciously racist." Regardless of the results of the "test", participants were told that the results showed they were racist.
The volunteers were then told that these results would be made public to the rest of the University. However, if they chose to take part in a separate experiment, which involved them putting their hands into a bucket full of worms, they would not publish the results from the initial test that showed they were racist.
Around 30 percent of participants chose to put their hands in the worm bucket in order to protect their reputation.
Study co-author Andrew J Vonasch, now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Seeker that “people are willing to do many things to avoid a bad reputation that other theories might not have predicted."
The authors point out that protecting your reputation leads to benefits within your own group, which may be why this trait is so strong in humans.
“We argue that protecting your reputation has important fitness consequences, and this may be one reason the motivation to protect it is so strong,” Vonasch told Seeker.
A fourth lab study found that 63 percent of volunteers were willing to endure physical pain to prevent the researchers from disseminating information that they were racist.
The studies showed that women were more likely to endure pain to protect their reputations, whereas men were more likely to partake in the worm experiment if it kept their reputation intact.