Smooth criminal: convicted rule-breakers show reduced cognitive conflict during deliberate rule violations
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- Jusyte, A., Pfister, R., Mayer, S.V. et al. Psychological Research (2016). doi:10.1007/s00426-016-0798-6
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Classic findings on conformity and obedience document a strong and automatic drive of human agents to follow any type of rule or social norm. At the same time, most individuals tend to violate rules on occasion, and such deliberate rule violations have recently been shown to yield cognitive conflict for the rule-breaker. These findings indicate persistent difficulty to suppress the rule representation, even though rule violations were studied in a controlled experimental setting with neither gains nor possible sanctions for violators. In the current study, we validate these findings by showing that convicted criminals, i.e., individuals with a history of habitual and severe forms of rule violations, can free themselves from such cognitive conflict in a similarly controlled laboratory task. These findings support an emerging view that aims at understanding rule violations from the perspective of the violating agent rather than from the perspective of outside observer.