Factors affecting obedience and dissent: Individual differences – Personality Gramann et al (1995)

“Obedience and the Great Outdoors” see http://www.angelfire.com/id2/intropsychology/Effectsofpersonalityandsituationalfactors.html


Background: Rule breaking in outdoor recreational areas can cause damage to natural and cultural resources, impacting on the environment, the visitors and costing up to $500 million a year according to some estimates. Various strategies have been developed to protect recreational resources from harmful behaviour by visitors. E.g.
involves strict enforcement of regulations and threatening sanctions for rule violations

  • Indirect management focuses on ‘awareness of consequences’ that is the use of information and education to help people understand the reasons behind the rules.

One example of anti-social rule breaking in this context would be dumping “gray-water”. from caravans/mobile homes if sanitary dump stations are full or are not provided. “Gray water” is not sewage but might contain poisonous chemicals from cleaning products that could affect the eco-system.  When protective rules are obeyed voluntarily, despite a temptation to disobey them, a prosocial act has occurred. This is because obedience entails a perceived cost without the benefit of material compensation for obeying. In outdoor recreation settings the probability of being detected and punished for disregarding regulations is often very small. In a wildlife park, visitors were asked not to feed the squirrels. It was found that a sign warning about contracting bubonic plague from the squirrels (directwas more effective in enforcing the rule than a sign about the harm that can happen to squirrels if they are fed the wring type of food (indirect).

Aims: This study examines the effectiveness of direct and indirect management strategies in promoting rule obedience in outdoor recreation contexts, and, further, to determine if a personality trait known as “social responsibility” mediates people’s intentions to respond to direct and indirect approaches. Gough, et al (1952) define social responsibility as a dispositional trait which reflects an individual’s dependability, sense of obligation to the group, and willingness to accept the consequences of his or her own behaviour. Subsequent research has demonstrated that socially responsible persons have an enhanced sense of commitment to the collective good, a strong tendency to delay personal gratification, and a proclivity to help others, even when there is nothing material to be gained by doing so.

Hypotheses: People who are more socially responsible will be more receptive to educational messages promoting their awareness of the negative environmental effects of violating rules in outdoor recreation areas than people are low in social responsibility.  People who are less socially responsible will be less likely to respond to awareness-of-consequences approaches, since they tend to elevate personal comfort and convenience above the welfare of others. The threat of a sanction for violating rules may be more effective than awareness-of-consequences messages in bringing about rule conformity in low social-responsibility visitors. This is because such visitors should be primarily concerned about their own welfare, and thus should be strongly motivated to avoid threats to their own well-being.

Design: A laboratory experiment

Participants: 514 Students enrolled in undergraduate history and political science courses at Texas A&M University.

Procedure: Students completed a condensed version of Perloe’s (1967) Social Values Questionnaire designed to measure their level of social responsibility. The questionnaire was self-administered and was completed during normal class hours. Subjects who scored above the median on the questionnaire were placed in a “high” social-responsibility group, while those scoring below the median were placed in a “low” social-responsibility group.

203/514 student completed a second questionnaire called the “Social Dilemma Questionnaire”, described as a “relatively short and interesting scenario questionnaire about outdoor recreation experiences.” Students were told that they would receive $5.00 for doijg so. The SDQ consists of six scenarios that describe dilemmas that might be faced by visitors in outdoor recreation areas. In each dilemma there is a compelling reason to disobey a regulation. The dilemmas concern

1) camping at an unauthorized area in a wilderness

2) too many vehicles parked at a campsite during a family reunion

3) the use of glass beverage containers at a beach

4) building an illegal campfire during dry weather conditions

5) a prohibition against wood fires in a backcountry area

6) not taking trail shortcuts during a thunderstorm.

Pps were asked to project themselves into the specific situation described in each scenario and decide the likelihood that they would violate or not violate the rule in question. For each dilemma, subjects completed two six-point bipolar response scales (-3 to +3) measuring their behavioural intention. The first scale assessed the likelihood that the subject would break the rule, while the second measured the likelihood that the rule would be obeyed.

Correlations between these two intention measures ranged from -0.64 to -0.80, indicating, as expected, that persons who recorded a high probability of intending to disobey a rule in the first question indicated a low probability of conforming to the rule in the second response.

Subjects were also asked to indicate the number of times they had been camping or backpacking within the last two years. Responses were recorded in the following categories: none, one-to-two, three-to-four, five-to-six, and seven or more times.

Although measures of behavioural intentions, such as those employed in this study, cannot substitute for observations of actual behaviour, intentions to perform various types of recreation-related activity have been shown to be significant predictors of overt behaviour in previous research.

Initial selection of the 120 participants from the pool of 203 volunteers was subject to two conditions. In order to obtain maximally different groups on social responsibility, students who scored at or near the median on the Social Values Questionnaire were not included among the pool of potential subjects. In addition, those who scored at the extremes of the scale were also excluded from consideration because of concern that their scores may have been an artifact of response set.

The remaining 120 subjects were assigned randomly to one of four experimental conditions, such that each group contained equal numbers of Pps who were high or low on the social-responsibility subjects, as well as equal numbers of males and females.

The experimental conditions were communication of

1) an awareness-of-consequences (AC) message describing the reason for a rule AND of a probable sanction for violating this rule

2) a probable sanction only

3) an AC message only

4) the absence of both probable-sanction and AC messages (control condition).

The sanctions chosen were chosen to seem very likely and serious ($100 fine).

There were four versions of the SDQ depending which group Pps were assigned to. After they had completed their version they were also asked to fill out a “rationale questionnaire” in which they explained the reasons for their decisions in each dilemma.

To check the internal validity of the experimental treatments, the researchers also asked the Pps questions about how aware they were of the reason for the regulation in the dilemma (AC message groups), and how aware they were of patrolling rangers and potential fines (probable-sanction message groups). This check demonstrated that the experimental manipulations had worked.

Results : Social responsibility was only related to obeying the rules for one of the scenarios. High SR Pps were more likely to say they would obey the rule not to build a campfire during dry weather conditions.

Awareness of consequences messages only brought about greater obedience in the scenario about camping at a closed wilderness site near a peregrine falcon nesting area, or hiking two miles in approaching darkness to another site. Subjects receiving an AC message explaining the reasons for the closure were more likely to intend to hike to another site than those who did not receive this message.

The third hypothesis concerned the effectiveness of probable sanctions in deterring rule violations. This hypothesis was also supported in the case of the falcon dilemma, as well as the scenario about parking too many vehicles during a family reunion (contributing to vegetation damage and soil erosion) or moving to another site located some distance from the rest of the group. In both dilemmas, subjects who were aware of the probable sanctions for rule violations were more likely to say they would obey the rules.

Hypothesis 4 involved the interaction of AC messages with social responsibility. This was found to be true only for the third dilemma (using glass beverage containers at a beach, despite a prohibition against them, or driving ten miles to a store to buy other beverages for a beach picnic). Thse with higher SR were more likely to obey when given the AC message about the danger to wildlife and other users from broken glass. Otherwise, high SR-subjects intended to disobey the rule.

The fifth hypothesis was not supported in any of the six scenarios. In no case did a significant interaction between social responsibility and probable sanction occur. In other words, the effect of probable sanctions on obedience intentions was similar across both the high and low social-responsibility groups.

Overall there was no significant  effect of social responsibility on intentions to obey rules even though SR had been a significant determinant in one of the individual dilemmas and Pps who were high on SR were only slightly more likely to intend to obey rules than those who were those who were low on SR.

Exposure to both AC messages and sanctions messages both significantly increased likelihood of obedience in comparison to no such message.

Pps with high SR scores were significantly scale more likely to intend to obey rules after exposure to an AC message than those who scored in the lower half of the scale. AC messages had no effect on the behavioural intentions of low-SR subjects.

In the final two dilemmas that appeared to pose significant threats to the safety of the actors if rules were obeyed, none of the experimental factors affected rule-obedience intentions.

Analysis to determine whether the greater camping and backpacking experience of the sample had affected their results suggested it did not.


AC messages are helpful in bringing about obedience to protective rules in the countryside however they may not be effective for everyone, particularly those low in social responsibility. Messages about probable sanctions are slightly more effective than AC messages in bringing about obedience. However, if people don’t believe the sanctions will be enforced then they won’t work meaning AC messages still have their place.