Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Cynthia J. Pietras

Second Advisor

Dr. R. Wayne Fuqua

Third Advisor

Dr. Scott T. Gaynor

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Campus Only


The present study investigated how penalties for breaking rules affected rule following in humans. Participants were presented with choices between progressive and fixed-time schedules of money delivery and were given instructions (rules) for how to respond to maximize earnings. Across sessions, the progressive-schedule step size was manipulated so that the rules became increasingly inaccurate. In some conditions deviating from the instructions produced money losses (response-cost penalties). Participants were exposed to penalty and no-penalty conditions in a counterbalanced order to determine how a history of punishment for rule-breaking influenced subsequent rule following. Results indicated that penalties for breaking with the rule did not affect the point at which participants began deviating from the instructions. However, penalties did seem to increase rule following in ascending sequences up to that break point and descending sequences down from that break point. These results support prior research which has suggested that responding in verbal humans in the presence of rules is controlled by multiple variables (e.g. Hackenberg & Joker, 1994). In the present study, responding appeared to be controlled by (a) the instructions and other social stimuli signaling the consequences for breaking the rules and (b) the experienced consequences for breaking with rules, including penalties.