Some Determinants of the Violation of Rules1


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    The research reported in this article is a product of the project “Human Behavior and the Legal Process”, which is supported by National Science Foundation Grant GS-28590X.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. John Thibaut, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.


The pattern of a simulated legislator-individual interaction as well as properties inherent in law-enforcement procedures were manipulated to study their effects on the degree of individuals' adherence to laws. The degree of correspondence between the outcomes accruing to a legislator and those attained by an individual, the “fairness” of surveillance methods used by the legislator, and the severity with which he penalized violations of a law were manipulated in a 23 factorial design. The main findings show that, under circumstances of outcome correspondence, subjects attempted to increase their outcomes without violating the law, as opposed to subjects in noncorrespondent conditions who showed no such attempt. Furthermore, evidence was found to the effect that subjects in noncorrespondent interactions with the legislator actively attempted to hurt the latter by violating his laws. The results also show the existence of a positive relationship between surveillance “unfairness” and the frequency of law violation. This relationship is qualified, however, by a statistical interaction which shows that the differential effects attributable to “fairness” of surveillance are stronger in noncorrespondent than in correspondent conditions. The severity of penalty manipulation yielded a main effect on the frequency of violations–the milder the penalties the more frequent the violations. The pattern of means suggests that the effect of severity of penalties on the frequency of violations is less pronounced in the correspondent than in the noncorrespondent conditions. This interaction, however, failed to reach a conventional level of statistical significance.