A new study finds that people with a greater sense of entitlement are less likely to follow instructions, primarily because they see the instructions as an unfair imposition on themselves. The findings appear in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
In general, individuals who appear to act as if they are owed something even if it must come at the expense of others are seen as “entitled.”
Scientists are already aware that entitled people are more likely to believe they deserve preferences and resources that others don’t and that they are less concerned about what is socially acceptable or beneficial.
“The fact that there are a lot of complaints these days about having to deal with entitled students and entitled employees, suggests the need for a solution,” said study author Dr. Emily Zitek from Cornell University.
Zitek and co-author Dr. Alexander Jordan from Harvard Medical School believe that understanding the reasons for the behavior of entitled people could help lead to solutions as well.
For the study, the researchers conducted a series of experiments. First, they wanted to see who was more likely to avoid following instructions in a word search. After establishing that participants who scored high on measures of entitled personality were less likely to follow instructions, they provided a set of scenarios to try to understand why these entitled individuals ignore the instructions.
They tested for traits of selfishness and control and even threatened to penalize those who didn’t follow directions. But surprisingly, none of these affected the outcomes — entitled people still wouldn’t follow the instructions. The researchers were actually perplexed at how difficult it was to get entitled individuals to follow the rules.
“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,” said Zitek.
During a final set of experiments, in which the researchers explored the concept of fairness, they finally found their reason.
“Entitled people do not follow instructions because they would rather take a loss themselves than agree to something unfair,” wrote the authors.
The researchers note that organizations and societies run more smoothly when people are willing to follow instructions.
“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,” said Zitek.