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Psychophysiology. 2016 Dec;53(12):1870-1877. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12771. Epub 2016 Oct 7.

The electrophysiological signature of deliberate rule violations.

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Department of Psychology, Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.
Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Eichstätt, Germany.


Humans follow rules by default, and violating even simple rules induces cognitive conflict for the rule breaker. Previous studies revealed this conflict in various behavioral measures, including response times and movement trajectories. Based on these experiments, we investigated the electrophysiological signature of deliberately violating a simple stimulus-response mapping rule. Such rule violations were characterized by a delayed and attenuated P300 component when evaluating a rule-relevant stimulus, most likely reflecting increased response complexity. This parietal attenuation was followed by a frontal positivity for rule violations relative to correct response trials. Together, these results reinforce previous findings on the need to inhibit automatic S-R translation when committing a rule violation, and they point toward additional factors involved in rule violation. Candidate processes such as negative emotional responses and increased monitoring should be targeted by future investigations.


Nonconformity; P300; Rule violation

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