Project Information

Kurt Lewin Instituut
Heidelberglaan 1
Room Number H1.42
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30 - 253 3027

Project Information

Project Title
"When to transgress and when to behave? Prototypicality makes norm violators climb the hierarchical ladder"

University of Amsterdam - Work and Organizational Psychology

PhD Student
Florian Wanders

Dr. Astrid C. Homan (University of Amsterdam)
prof.dr. Annelies E.M. van Vianen (University of Amsterdam)
prof.dr. Gerben A. van Kleef (University of Amsterdam)

15 August 2015 - 15 August 2018

University of Amsterdam


Social norms guide everyday behaviour and, as such, allow for relatively peaceful social coexistence. People who break these norms are therefore often punished (1). Interestingly, however, some people seem to be exempt from following the rules, and are able to violate norms with few consequences. On the contrary, when they violate norms it might signal that they can act as they please, which in turn increases their hierarchical standing (2, 3). Examples of such norm violations are ample and range from colleagues interrupting one another to nations spying on each other. The proposed project aims to illuminate the fascinating question of what sets apart those who can transgress norms and gain hierarchical standing from those who should obey to avoid negative social consequences.

Combining idiosyncrasy credit theory (4, 5) with bounded generalized reciprocity theory (6, 7, 8), I propose that people’s position in their group determines whether they are allowed to transgress norms or not. According to idiosyncrasy theory, people are awarded credits by the people around them. Those who are awarded many credits are given relatively much leeway and may safely violate norms, while those who are awarded little credits will experience negative social consequences when violating norms. Combining this framework with bounded generalized reciprocity theory, I propose that prototypical group members (i.e., those who are most exemplary of their group) are allotted relatively many credits and thus gain hierarchical standing when violating norms. In contrast, peripheral group members (i.e. those who are less clear examples of their group) are allotted no credits and will therefore lose hierarchical standing when violating norms.

The proposed research will be embedded in a larger interdepartmental project that investigates the dynamics of social hierarchies. The combined publicity work will ensure that the findings are communicated to the psychological community and to society.

Literature references

1. Schachter, S. (1951). Deviation, rejection, and communication. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 46, 190-207.

2. Van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Finkenauer, C., Gundemir, S., & Stamkou, E. (2011). Breaking the rules to rise to power: How norm violators gain power in the eyes of others. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 500-507.

3. Van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Finkenauer, C., Blaker, N. M., & Heerdink, M. W. (2012). Prosocial norm violations fuel power perceptions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 937-942.

4. Hollander, E. P. (1958). Conformity, status, and idiosyncrasy credit. Psychological Review, 65, 117-127.

5. Stone, T. H., & Cooper, W. H. (2009). Emerging credits. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 785-798.

6. Yamagishi, T., Jin, N., & Kiyonari, T. (1999). Bounded generalized reciprocity. Ingroup boasting and ingroup favoritism. Advances in Group Processes, 16, 161–197.

7. Balliet, D., Wu, J., & De Dreu, C. K. W. (2014). Ingroup favoritism in cooperation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 1556-1581.

8. Cheng, J. T., Tracy, J. L., Foulsham, T., Kingstone, A., & Henrich, J. (2013). Two ways to the top: evidence that dominance and prestige are distinct yet viable avenues to social rank and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 103-125.

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