Scientific American checks out research on the subject:

As diverse as people are in ascribing sacred status to possessions, they are equally varied in which values they consider sacred, a diversity that can breed substantial conflict. The abortion debate, for example, often presents a divide between those who consider woman’s “right to choose” sacred versus those who consider a fetus’ “right to life” sacred. A recent study in the journal for Judgment and Decision Making assessed how the Iranian nuclear defense program has become a sacred value and how this affects negotiation over Iranian disarmament, an issue of growing global concern.

Just last month Iran defied the United Nations in beginning to enrich its uranium supply to bolster its nuclear program. The recent study on this topic by Morteza Dehghani and colleagues, offers two key insights. It demonstrates how a relatively recent issue, one thatunlike abortionlacks any longstanding historical or religious significance, can become sacred. And it suggests, surprisingly, that offering material incentives in exchange for sacred values may backfire badly. The work is a reminder that sacred values are tremendously influential in disputes both international and interpersonal, but that our negotiating instincts can lead us away from common ground.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.