Examining subjective and physiological responses to norm violation using text‐based vignettes

Eva G. Krumhuber, Elena Tsankova, Arvid Kappas
Published Online:
13 Jan 2016
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 53 Issue 1

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In this article, we describe a paradigm using text‐based vignettes for the study of social and cultural norm violation. Towards this aim, a range of scenarios depicting instances of norm violations was generated and tested with respect to their ability in evoking subjective and physiological responses. In Experiment 1, participants evaluated 29 vignettes on how upsetting, excusable and realistic the described behaviour appeared to be. Based on those ratings we selected and extended three norm violation vignettes for Experiment 2 in which participants' physiological responses were obtained in addition to their subjective ratings. In both studies, the vignettes were successful in eliciting negative responses to norm violations and were significantly affected by the perceivers' level of ethnocultural empathy. The trait measure of cultural empathy further predicted facial electromyography (EMG) activity at muscle sites associated with disgust (M. Levator Labii), thereby suggesting a potential moral response to norm‐violating scenarios. We discuss the methodological merits and implications of this vignettes paradigm for investigating perceived norm transgressions and make recommendations for future work.

© 2016 International Union of Psychological Science