Why do people follow rules? 

Each one of us wants an organized, disciplined society where no one is breaking any rules. Traffic is easily managed if you have law abiding citizens. It is easy to catch the bus or train if everyone stands in a queue. But have you ever thought what makes people follow these rules? Are the rules really ingrained in their habits or people are just afraid of the lawmakers?

I had witnessed a social experiement that made me ponder on this topic. (to clarify, social event for others but social experiment for my eyes)

I was in Singapore and was impressed by the impeccable obedience that people display in that country. Each soul, irrespective of age , ethnicity, income can be seen adhering to the rules sanctimoniously.

The rules in Singapore are very strict. If you drink water in a metro, you will be fined. Chewing gum is illegal.  Littering, Spitting, flower picking etc can attract fines of upto $1000.

Due to the imposition of hefty fine for meagre issues, people do not dare to break the actually relevant laws. Hence, Singapore is immaculate and has extremely low crime rate.

I was impressed by the way people behave in the metro. On the escalators, people stand on right side of the escalator, to let others walk on the left side. No one will push you or even rush when the metro arrives. Everyone displays a high level or patience and order.

This made me compare the situation with my homeland. How can we induce such behavior in India? Should we make the laws strict and impose hefty fine for the defaulters?

On the 50th independence day celebration of Singapore, the metro rides (MRT) were free to encourage people to visit the marina bay sands. It was a wonderful prestigious day for Singaporeans. After the celebration, everyone wanted to take the metro to reach their respective coordinates. Singapore must have not witnessed such a day before. A huge crowd dispersed and headed towards the metro. there was a long waiting time before we could even enter the metro gate. There was an unusual picture in front of my eyes. The law abiding citizens did not exist any more. The awe-inspiring obedience and mannerism vanished. People were pushing each other; many were drinking water in the metro.  No one followed the unsaid rules on the escalator of standing only on the right. The scene was no different than what I had witnessed back home in Indian metros.

So what was different now? The strict rules existed and hefty fines existed too but an additional factor of population density was introduced, that had changed the game entirely. Hence, obedience does not depend solely on how strict the laws are.

Another example is the driving behavior in US cities. In Most of the cities in US, you can witness peaceful lane driving  – no one will try to overtake you, no one will honk. But in New York , the driving pattern looks maddening with no respect to lane driving. You can hear the unnecssary horns all the time. Even pedestrians are seen crossing the road at red signal. Again, population density plays its part. But why is it such an important factor?

The answer is the human emulation.

People tend to look around and copy behavior from others, be it negative or positive. If you see other pedestrians crossing a red signal and nothing is happening to them, there is a high chance of replicating the behavior (As is witnessed in New York each day). Similarly, if you see others abiding by the rules, you will be scared to become an outlier and will follow them. ( as is witnessed in Singapore each day)

When population density increases, the outliers can not be identified easily and hence people tend to break laws.

To summarize, Major factors affecting the law adherence are strict rules, action on breaking rules ( hefty fines), habits imbibed in the citizens, and population density

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2 comments

  1. I too saw this change in behavior in London. The under ground metros/tubes ( all of them ) were cancelled and there was a huge surge of people looking for Taxis. Again people pushed, fought and there was hardly any civility. Apart from copying negative clues I think fear of losing out and uncertainty about when some thing will be available next causes us to become selfish.
    Nice observations and well writtem

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