New Publication in PLOS ONE

Cubillos-Pinilla, L., & Emmerling, F.: Taking the chance!-Interindividual differences in rule-breaking

We are happy to share that our article “Taking the chance!–Interindividual differences in rule-breaking” was published in PLOS ONE. 

Abstract: While some individuals tend to follow norms, others, in the face of tempting but forbidden options, tend to commit rule-breaking when this action is beneficial for themselves. Previous studies have neglected such interindividual differences in rule-breaking. The present study fills this gap by investigating cognitive characteristics of individuals who commit spontaneous deliberative rule-breaking (rule-breakers) versus rule-followers. We developed a computerised task, in which 133 participants were incentivised to sometimes violate set rules which would–if followed–lead to a loss. While 52% of participants tended to break rules to obtain a benefit, 48% tended to follow rules even if this behaviour led to loss. Although rule-breakers experienced significantly more cognitive conflict (measured via response times and mouse movement trajectories) than rule-followers, they also obtained higher payoffs. In rule-breakers, cognitive conflict was more pronounced when violating the rules than when following them, and mainly during action planning. This conflict increased with frequent, recurrent, and early rule-breaking. Our results were in line with the Decision-Implementation-Mandatory switch-Inhibition model and thus extend the application of this model to the interindividual differences in rule-breaking. Furthermore, personality traits such as extroversion, disagreeableness, risk propensity, high impulsiveness seem to play a role in the appreciation of behaviours and cognitive characteristics of rule-followers and rule-breakers. This study opens the path towards the understanding of the cognitive characteristics of the interindividual differences in responses towards rules, and especially in spontaneous deliberative rule-breaking.

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