Excuse Validation

How to break a rule without “breaking” it.

The effect in thirty seconds

Rules help us accomplish things by coordinating behavior and expectations. Rule-breakers are often blamed, but sometimes they are excused. My lab discovered something new and surprising about how people think about rule-breaking. Judging that someone blamelessly broke a rule can lead people to claim, paradoxically, that no rule was broken at all. Why does this happen? Judging that someone “broke the rules” can suggest that he deserves blame. But what if it was an innocent mistake? In that case, many people judge that no rule was broken in the first place, as a way of excusing his behavior. They sacrifice accuracy for fairness in reporting. We call this “excuse validation.”

Relevant publications

The Test of Truth
Excuse Validation
Cross-cultural Excuse Validation

More findings

Ought Exceeds Can

The Bi-Location Effect

The Untruth Effect