Science Project:

Rule Breakers

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The purpose of this experiment is to examine the human tendency to break rules and to find out whether they are more likely to follow rules if they are easy to follow, and more likely to break them if following them is difficult.

  • Do most people break the rules at least some of the time?
  • What are some reasons that a person would chose to break a rule?
  • How are rules adapted to make them easier to follow?
  • What types of rules are people most likely to break?

We spend a lot of time, as a society, attempting to get others to follow our rules. While most people follow most rules most of the time, there are certain rules that seem difficult or even impossible to follow. Psychologists have done extensive research on human nature to discover how to convince them to follow rules more consistently. This is extremely important, because often not following rules can be dangerous or can harm the health of the rule breaker. One thing that psychologists have discovered is that making rules easy to follow tends to increase the percentage of people that follow the rule, while making the rule difficult to follow makes a person more likely to break it.

  • A large population to observe, such as the kids in a school
  • A number of different signs
  • A notebook and a pen
  • Sunglasses

  1. Make sure you have permission from teachers and administrators before you post signs around the school. Informing your school of your experiment will help.
  2. Find a classroom with a door on either side of the room.
  3. Place a sign on the door that most people use to enter and exit that says “Do not use this door.”
  4. Sit or stand in an inconspicuous place, using sunglasses if you wish to hide where you are looking.
  5. Wait for people to come to the door and take notes on how many people follow the directions on the door and how many break the rule.
  6. Before the next class, place a new sign on the door that says, “Do not use this door; use the door around the corner.”
  7. Sit or stand in an inconspicuous place, using sunglasses if you wish to hide where you are looking.
  8. Wait for people to come to the door and take notes on how many people follow the directions on the door and how many break the rule.
  9. Before the next class, place a new sign on the door that says, “Please use the door around the corner.”
  10. Sit or stand in an inconspicuous place, using sunglasses if you wish to hide where you are looking.
  11. Wait for people to come to the door and take notes on how many people follow the directions on the door and how many break the rule.
  12. Compare the results of your initial study. What circumstance made people follow the rule the most consistently?
  13. Find a classroom with two doors on the same side of the building or with a double door.
  14. Repeat steps 3-12.
  15. Compare the results of the two different studies.
  16. (optional) If times allows, you may be able to think of other simple rules to test, using a similar structure of signs (negative, negative with alternative, positive with alternative).

Terms/Concepts: Rule; Choice; Follow rule; Break rule

References:

Author: Crystal Beran
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