Effect of Personality and Situational Factors on Intentions to Obey Rules in Outdoor Recreation Areas

Article excerpt


Damage to natural and cultural resources due to visitors' violation of protective rules is a major problem facing outdoor recreation management agencies. Such damage can have adverse psychological effects on visitors, as well as major impacts on organizational budgets (Heywood, Mullins, & Blower, 1984). One estimate of the cost of repairing and preventing resource and facility damage in outdoor recreation areas placed the total at over $500 million a year (Christensen, 1984).

Various strategies have been developed to protect recreational resources from harmful behavior by visitors. These can be divided into two general approaches: direct management and indirect management (Lucas, 1982). Under a direct-management approach, visitor behavior is regulated overtly through strict enforcement of regulations and by threatening sanctions for rule violations (Namba & Dustin, 1992). Indirect management focuses on the use of information and education to promote voluntary conformance to protective rules (Gramann, Christensen, & Vander Stoep, 1992). The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of direct and indirect management strategies in promoting rule obedience in outdoor recreation contexts, and, further, to determine if a personality trait known as "social responsibility" mediates people's intentions to respond to direct and indirect approaches.

Theoretical Background

Indirect Management and Prosocial Behavior

Several studies have evaluated the effectiveness of indirect management in reducing rule violations and damaging behavior in outdoor recreation settings. In a review of this research, Gramann and Vander Stoep (1987) argued that the results of these studies could be explained by prosocial behavior theory. Prosocial behavior is voluntary helping behavior carried out to benefit others without the incentive of material rewards for helping or the threat of probable punishment for not helping (Bar-Tal, 1982). Prosocial behavior often entails a sacrifice by the helper that may range from minor inconveniences to significant social, economic, and physical costs. Schwartz (1977) hypothesized that helping behavior is more likely to occur when potential helpers are made aware of the consequences of their helping (or not helping) for others, and when they feel personally responsible to help in specific situations. Schwartz referred to the first of these factors as awareness of consequences," and to the second as "ascription of responsibility."

In recreation settings, visitors routinely conform to regulations that are designed to protect people, facilities, and natural or cultural resources. However, at times visitors may feel that a compelling reason exists to disobey a protective regulation. For example, prohibitions against dumping "gray water" from recreational vehicles may be ignored if sanitary dump stations are full or are not provided. Gramann and Vander Stoep (1987) argued that when protective rules are obeyed voluntarily, despite a temptation to disobey them, a prosocial act has occurred. This is because obedience exacts a perceived cost to the conformer without the benefit of material compensation for obeying, and because in outdoor recreation settings the probability of being detected and punished for disregarding regulations is often very small (Christensen, Istvan, & Sharpe, 1992).

Psychologists often distinguish between different types of prosocial actions (McGuire, 1994). Grace, Bell, & Sugar (1988) defined "spontaneous helping" as a decision to help strangers in surprise and/or emergency situations, while "asked-for" (or casual) helping entails a verbal or nonverbal request for help in a non-emergency situation. The second of these appears to correspond most closely to the types of actions that occur when people voluntarily obey protective regulations in recreation areas, even when there may be reasons to disobey.

Prosocial behavior theory suggests that one key to promoting rule conformity in recreation areas is to use information and education to increase visitors' awareness of the negative consequences for resources of disobeying protective rules (Vander Stoep & Gramann, 1987). …