Why some people won’t do what they’re told, why some people won’t tell them to, and why others get outraged

Did you know that there are four basic patterns in people’s attitudes to rules and to following social norms:

  1. One for all and all for one – the most common attitude
  2. Different strokes for different folks – the largest minority attitude
  3. Passively compliant
  4. Indifferent – noticeable by exception

I write this at the beginning the UK’s third week in lockdown as part of the response to 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic. There’s been lots in the press and on social media about some people not following the rules for social distancing, which is not a trivial issue. At the time of writing, world-wide deaths are continuing to climb and have not yet reached the peak.

Some of what I’ve been seeing reminded me of the studies into behavioural preferences and traits, including the rules for behaviour that people apply to themselves and others.

I’ve set-out what I know in the table below and summarised it in the pie-chart at the top of this article. Take a look at the table, and see which category you might fall into?

AttitudeApproach to Rules and Norms of Behaviour
One for all and all for oneMost of us regard others as similar to ourselves and therefore believe that the rules that apply to them should also apply to us as well – and vice-versa. We’re not averse to telling people what we think the rules are, and will often say things like: “If I were you, I would …”
Different strokes for different strokesA large minority of people know which rules apply to themselves but don’t try to apply those rules to other people – either because they don’t feel it’s appropriate, or because they can’t.
Passively compliantA smaller proportion of people don’t really know what rules apply to them, until someone else tells them. Once they know the rules, they’ll usually be very compliant and keen that others should comply too.
IndifferentThe smallest proportion of people might have rules or preferences for how THEY do things but are otherwise indifferent to everybody else. They don’t mind what rules or norms you follow, and tend not to be aware of the impact of their behaviour on others.

I wonder if what we’re seeing in response to social distancing measures reflects these patterns?

For example:

  1. Most of us seem to be using common sense, have a good grasp of what’s required of us and are looking out for others – does that reflect the One for all and all for one category?
  2. Is it likely that the minority of people not following social distances guidelines are in the Indifferent category?
  3. Are those who are outraged by other people’s behaviour mostly in the Passively Compliant category?
  4. Does the relatively large minority of people in the Different Strokes category reduce social pressure on the non-compliant people?
What are your thoughts - does the distribution of people's attitudes to rules and norms explain our social distancing behaviours? Click To Tweet