Thou Shalt Not Steal: Effects of Normative Cues on Attitudes towards Theft


In this study, we examine how normative cues influence attitudes towards theft. In a 3 × 2 × 2 within-subjects design (N = 120), we found that people had more negative attitudes towards theft when: 1) a higher value item was stolen than when a lower value item was stolen; 2) the theft took place in a public setting than when it took place in a private setting; and 3) the theft took place in a tidy rather than messy setting. Furthermore, our findings showed interaction effects between the value of a stolen item and 1) the cleanliness of the environment; and 2) the privateness of a setting, on attitudes towards theft. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Share and Cite:

Groot, J. , Abrahamse, W. & Vincent, S. (2013). Thou Shalt Not Steal: Effects of Normative Cues on Attitudes towards Theft. Psychology, 4, 438-444. doi: 10.4236/psych.2013.44062.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Ajzen, I. (1988). Attitudes, personality, and behavior. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T
[2] Ames, D. R. (2004). Strategies for social inference: A similarity contingency model of projection and stereotyping in attribute prevalence estimates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 573-585. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.5.573
[3] Anker, A. E., Feeley, T. H., & Kim, H. (2010). Examining the attitude-behavior relationship in prosocial donation domains. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 1293-1324. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00619.x
[4] Bateson, M., Nettle, D., & Roberts, G. (2006). Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters, 23, 412-414. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2006.0509
[5] Chen, C. C., & Chiu, S. F. (2009). The mediating role of job involvement in the relationship between job characteristics and organizational citizenship behavior. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 474-494. doi:10.3200/SOCP.149.4.474-494
[6] Cialdini, R. B., Demaine, L. J., Sagarin, B. J., Barrett, D. W., Rhoads, K., & Winter, P. L. (2006). Managing social norms for persuasive impact. Social Influence, 1, 3-15. doi:10.1080/15534510500181459
[7] Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno, R. R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 201-234. doi:10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60330-5
[8] Cialdini, R. B., Reno, R. R., & Kallgren, C. A. (1990). A focus theory of normative conduct: Recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1015-1026. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.6.1015
[9] Crimestoppers (2010). Crime news: Latest crime statistics and surveys. Wallington: Crimestoppers.
[10] Cromby, J., Brown, S. D., Gross, H., Locke, A., & Patterson, A. E. (2010). Constructing crime, enacting morality: Emotion, crime and anti-social behaviour in an inner-city Community. The British Journal of Criminology, 50, 873-895. doi:10.1093/bjc/azq029
[11] Cronan, T. P., & Al-Rafee, S. (2008). Factors that influence the intention to pirate software and media. Journal of Business Ethics, 78, 527-545. doi:10.1007/s10551-007-9366-8
[12] De Groot, J. I. M., & Steg, L. (2007). General beliefs and the theory of planned behavior: The role of environmental concerns in the TPB. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37, 1817-1836. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2007.00239.x
[13] De Groot, J. I. M., & Steg, L. (2009). Morality and prosocial behavior: The role of awareness, responsibility and norms in the norm activation model. Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 425-449. doi:10.3200/SOCP.149.4.425-449
[14] Goel, S., Mason, W., & Watts, D. J. (2010). Real and perceived attitude agreement in social networks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 611-621. doi:10.1037/a0020697
[15] Henle, C. A., Reeve, C. L., & Pitts, V. E. (2010). Stealing time at work: Attitudes, social pressure, and perceived controls as predictors of time theft. Journal of Business Ethics, 94, 53-67. doi:10.1007/s10551-009-0249-z
[16] Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (1968). Theft act 1968. London: The National Archives.
[17] Huckfeldt, R., & Sprague, J. (1991). Discussant effects on vote choice: Intimacy, structure, and interdependence. The Journal of Politics, 53, 122-158. doi:10.2307/2131724
[18] Hurd, N. M., Zimmerman, M. A., & Reischl, T. M. (2011). Role model behavior and youth violence: A study of positive and negative effects. Journal of Early Adolescence, 31, 323-354. doi:10.1177/0272431610363160
[19] Jacobson, R. P., Mortensen, C. R., & Cialdini, R. B. (2011). Bodies obliged and unbound: Differentiated response tendencies for injunctive and descriptive social norms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 433-448. doi:10.1037/a0021470
[20] Jasinskaja-Lahti, I., Mahonen, T. A., & Liebkind, K. (2011). Ingroup norms, intergroup contact and intergroup anxiety as predictors of the outgroup attitudes of majority and minority youth. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 346-355. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2010.06.001
[21] Kallgren, C. A., Reno, R. R., & Cialdini, R. B. (2000). A focus theory of normative conduct: When norms do and do not affect behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1002-1012. doi:10.1177/01461672002610009
[22] Keizer, K., Lindenberg, S., & Steg, L. (2008). The Spreading of Disorder. Science, 322, 1681-1685. doi:10.1126/science.1161405
[23] Lapinski, M. K., & Rimal, R. N. (2005). An explication of social norms. Communication Theory, 15, 127-147. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2005.tb00329.x
[24] Mulder, L. B., Verboon, P., & De Cremer, D. (2008). Sanctions and moral judgments: The moderating effect of sanction severity and trust in authorities. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 255-269. doi:10.1002/ejsp.506
[25] Nesdale, D., & Lawson, M. J. (2011). Social groups and children’s intergroup attitudes: Can school norms moderate the effects of social group norms? Child Development, 82, 1594-1606. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01637.x
[26] Nikitas, A., Avineri, E., & Parkhurst, G. (2011). Older people’s attitudes to road charging: Are they distinctive and what are the implications for policy? Transportation Planning and Technology, 34, 87-108. doi:10.1080/03081060.2011.530831
[27] Piazza, J., Bering, J. M., & Ingram, G. (2011). Princess Alice is watching you: Children’s belief in an invisible person inhibits cheating. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 109, 311-320. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2011.02.003
[28] Posthuma, R. A., & Dworkin, J. B. (2000). A behavioural theory of arbitrator acceptability. International Journal of Conflict Management, 11, 249-266. doi:10.1108/eb022842
[29] Research Development Statistics (RDS) (2011). Crime in England and Wales: Quarterly update to September 2010. London: Home Office.
[30] Reno, R. R., Cialdini, R. B., & Kallgren, C. A. (1993). The transsituational influence of social norms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 104-112. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.64.1.104
[31] Schultz, P. W., Khazian, A. M., & Zaleski, A. C. (2008). Using normative social influence to promote conservation among hotel guests. Social Influence, 3, 4-23. doi:10.1080/15534510701755614
[32] Schultz, P. W., & Tabanico, J. J. (2009). Criminal beware: A social norms perspective on posting public warning signs. Criminology, 47, 1201-1222. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2009.00173.x
[33] Shariff, A. F., & Norenzayan, A. (2007). God is watching you: Priming God concepts increases prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychological Science, 18, 803-809. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01983.x
[34] Terrade, F., Pasquier, H., Reerinck-Boulanger, J., Guingouain, G., & Somat, A. (2009). L’acceptabilité sociale: La prise en compte des determinants sociaux dans l’analse de l’acceptabilité des systems technologiques. Le Travail Humain: A Bilingual and Multi-Disciplinary Journal in Human Factors, 72, 383-395. doi:10.3917/th.724.0383
[35] Tonglet, M. (2002). Consumer misbehavior: An exploratory study of shoplifting. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 1, 336-354. doi:10.1002/cb.79
[36] Visser, P. S., & Mirabile, P. R. (2004). Attitudes in the social context: The impact of social network composition on individual level attitude strength. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 779-795. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.6.779
[37] Wang, C., Chen. C., Yang, S., & Farn, C. (2009). Pirate or buy? The moderating effect of idolatry. Journal of Business Ethics, 90, 81-93. doi:10.1007/s10551-009-0027-y
[38] Wenzel, M. (2004). The social side of sanctions: Personal and social norms as moderators of deterrence. Law and Human Behaviour, 28, 547-567. doi:10.1023/B:LAHU.0000046433.57588.71

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.