You're Not Imagining It, Entitled People Really Do Flout The Rules

We've all seen jerks like this. Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

We’ve all seen self-important people jump queues, ignore traffic laws, and just generally refuse to follow the same rules as the rest of us. Now, psychologists have identified a true pattern to this behavior. A series of six studies published in Social Psychological and Personality Science shows that entitled people are less likely to follow directions.

The collective paper, performed by two researchers from Cornell University and Harvard Medical School, represents a slight departure from the authors' original subject matter. Previously attempting to explore how a sense of entitlement affects feelings of hunger, the team ran into a roadblock when their subjects refused to comply with the study's procedure.

“When analyzing the data, we noticed that many participants ignored the instructions (34.6%). Thus, it was hard to test our original hypothesis that hunger leads to higher entitlement,” they wrote. “However, this problem inspired us to test the present hypothesis that entitled people would be less likely to follow instructions.”

Their new investigation tested responses of 1,259 total participants to a range of instructional tasks or hypothetical scenarios. Prior to each of the six experiments, an entitled attitude was assessed using an established questionnaire called the Psychological Entitlement Scale. The definition of psychological entitlement is a feeling that one is more deserving of positive outcomes compared with everyone else. The quiz grades the extent of this belief by prompting people to respond statements like “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others” and “Great things should come to me”.

Study number one starting things out simply by quantifying how many directions out of a list were ignored by entitled people versus non-entitled people. In studies two, three, and four, participants were given tasks or scenarios that explored whether they were more or less likely to follow directions if doing so is mandatory, if it benefits them personally, or if it allows them to avoid punishment. The last two studies sought to determine if the fairness of a situation impacts an entitled individual's decision to follow directions.

After crunching the data, they concluded that entitled people are largely motivated by the belief that instructions are an unfair imposition on them. This was based on the findings that entitled participants would choose to incur a hypothetical personal cost rather than agree to something unfair, and that they are less likely to follow directions if they can get away with it without punishment.

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