ITHACA, N.Y. — Ever wonder why that holier-than-thou parent parks in the fire lane when dropping the kids off at school or stopping off for a Starbucks run, instead of finding a spot at the back of the packed lot like everyone else? A new study finds those infuriating folks you’d classify as entitled ignore the rules — and everyone else — because they view them as unfair burdens cast upon them.
Researchers from Cornell and Harvard universities sought to better understand the root of entitlement, which occurs when people believe they deserve special treatment and show less consideration or care for how their behavior will affect those around them.
Millennials, especially in the workforce, are often viewed by older generations and colleagues as the epitome of “entitled” because of their expectations for amenities and benefits in the office, or their dissatisfaction with lower wages right out of college.
So study co-authors Emily Zitek and Alexander Jordan led six studies hoping to delve into the minds of entitled participants.
In one experiment, the researchers were able to confirm that people who showed traits of entitlement were less likely to follow instructions in a simple word search activity.
They then looked to see if certain variables — such as selfishness, control, or punishment — would affect their willingness to bypass the rules. When participants were presented with a scenario in which following the rules of the activity required very little of them, they still found the entitled participants ignored the instructions.
Similarly, when instructions were delivered in a less controlling fashion, or when the participants were threatened with a punishment if they didn’t abide by the rules for the activity — to the authors’ surprise — the entitled individuals, again, scoffed at the directions.
“We thought that everyone would follow instructions when we told people that they would definitely get punished for not doing so, but entitled individuals still were less likely to follow instructions than less entitled individuals,” explains Zitek in a news release by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
In the final two studies, the researchers discovered that people with entitlement issues often see the rules as unfair to them. Participants were presented with scenarios in which they were given ultimatums when it came to the rules, to which individuals were more likely to ignore instructions particularly if it required a demand on them that they saw as unfair.
So when curious how someone could park in a handicapped spot when they’re not disabled or fly past all the parents walking in the rain at school just to get a close spot in the fire lane, just remember, it’s not about you: That extra 50-feet of strolling in the rain, to them, is simply not fair.
Of course, since things run more smoothly and tempers don’t flare as frequently when we all follow the rules, the authors suggest organizations look for ways to make rules that might seem burdensome to some feel less daunting, or unfair.
“A challenge for managers, professors, and anyone else who needs to get people with a sense of entitlement to follow instructions is to think about how to frame the instructions to make them seem fairer or more legitimate,” says Zitek.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.