From Our 2011 Archives

People Seem More Likely to Follow Rules They Can't Beat

MONDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- People who believe a rule or restriction is absolute are more likely to accept it than those who think the rule has some wiggle room, according to a new study.

The findings may help explain a number of human behaviors and actions, including the Arab Spring uprisings, according to the authors of the study to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

In the study, participants read articles that said lower speed limits in cities would make people safer. Some of them also read that government leaders had decided to reduce speed limits. Of those participants, some read that this legislation was certain to be enacted while others read that it would probably happen, but that there was a chance it would be voted down.

Compared to people in the control group who only read that lower speed limits would improve safety, support for the change was stronger among those who believed the speed limit was definitely being lowered but weaker among those who thought there was a chance it wouldn't happen.

The finding appears to confirm what the researchers suspected about absoluteness -- people will find a way to live with a restriction if they believe it is definite, said study author Kristin Laurin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

"If it's a restriction that I can't really do anything about, then there's really no point in hitting my head against the wall and trying to fight against it," Laurin said in a journal news release. "I'm better off if I just give up. But if there's a chance I can beat it, then it makes sense for my brain to make me want the restricted thing even more, to motivate me to fight."

She cited this year's uprisings in a number of Arab countries as an example. For decades, those nations had dictatorships with seemingly absolute power and people found ways to live under those repressive systems. But when the first Arab Spring revolt in Tunisia forced the president to flee, people in nearby nations realized their governments weren't all-powerful and rebelled.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release, Nov. 1, 2011