A Network Approach to Compliance: A Complexity Science Understanding of How Rules Shape Behavior

Malouke Esra Kuiper, Monique Chambon, Anne Leonore de Bruijn, Chris Reinders Folmer, Elke Hindina Olthuis, Megan Brownlee, Emmeke Barbara Kooistra, Adam Fine, Frenk van Harreveld, Gabriela Lunansky, Benjamin van Rooij

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


To understand how compliance develops both in everyday and corporate environments, it is crucial to understand how different mechanisms work together to shape individuals’ (non)compliant behavior. Existing compliance studies typically focus on a subset of theories (i.e., rational choice theories, social theories, legitimacy theories, capacity theories, and opportunity theories) to understand how key variables from one or several of these theories shape individual compliance. The present study provides a first integrated understanding of compliance, rooted in complexity science, in which key elements from these theories are considered simultaneously, and their relations to compliance and each other are explored using network analysis. This approach is developed by analyzing online survey data (N = 562) about compliance with COVID-19 mitigation measures. Traditional regression analysis shows that elements from nearly all major compliance theories (except for social theories) are associated with compliance. The network analysis revealed groupings and interconnections of variables that did not track the existing compliance theories and point to a complexity overlooked in existing compliance research. These findings demonstrate a fundamentally different perspective on compliance, which moves away from traditional narrow, non-network approaches. Instead, they showcase a complexity science understanding of compliance, in which compliance is understood as a network of interacting variables derived from different theories that interact with compliance. This points to a new research agenda that is oriented on mapping compliance networks, and testing and modelling how regulatory and management interventions interact with each other and compliance within such networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-504
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Complexity science
  • Compliance
  • Network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law


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