Lehrstuhl für Psychologie III

Non-conformity and rule violations

Roland Pfister, Robert Wirth, Anna Foerster


A pedestrian faces a red traffic light. What does he do? The normative response would be to stop and wait for the signal to turn green, and this course of action will be chosen by many people. A considerable share will respond differently, however, by crossing without further ado. Behavior such as crossing at a red light resembles an intentional violation of a commonly accepted rule.

In this line of research, we expose the burdens of non-conformity on behavior, cognition, motivation, and our affective state. Via an innovative setup of tasks, we isolate the cognitive architecture underlying rule violations, and compare them to related phenomena such as negation processing and task switching. By testing special populations such as convicted criminals in their prison environment, we challenge established results from the lab in real world scenarios.

This work is supported by our own sweat, blood and tears, our stubbornness, and our desperate attempt to break all the rules at no cost.


For further details, see:


Pfister, R., Wirth, R., Schwarz, K. A., Foerster, A., Steinhauser, M., & Kunde, W. (2016). The electrophysiological signature of deliberate rule violations. Psychophysiology, 53, 1870-1877.


Pfister, R., Wirth, R., Schwarz, K. A., Steinhauser, M., & Kunde, W. (2016). Burdens of non-conformity: Motor execution reveals cognitive conflict during deliberate rule violations. Cognition, 147, 93-99.


Wirth, R., Pfister, R., Foerster, A., Huestegge, L., & Kunde, W. (2016). Pushing the rules: Effects and aftereffects of deliberate rule violations. Psychological Research, 80(5), 838-852.


Jusyte, A., Pfister, R., Mayer, S. V., Schwarz, K. A., Wirth, R., Kunde, W., & Schöneberg, M. (2017). Smooth criminal: Convicted rule-breakers show reduced cognitive conflict during deliberate rule violations. Psychological Research, 81(5), 939-946.


Wirth, R., Foerster, A., Herbort, O., Kunde, W., & Pfister, R. (2018). This is how to be a rule breaker. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 14(1), 21-37.


Wirth, R., Foerster, A., Rendel, H., Kunde, W., & Pfister, R. (2018). Rule-violations sensitise towards negative and authority-related stimuli. Cognition & Emotion, 32(3), 480–493.


Pfister, R., Wirth, R., Weller, L., Foerster, A., & Schwarz, K. A. (2019). Taking shortcuts: Cognitive conflict during motivated rule-breaking. Journal of Economic Psychology, 71, 138-147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2018.06.005   pdf.


(last updated in October, 2019)