Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is Crime Contagious?

The idea behind the broken windows theory is that if people look around and see other people violating norms, they will tend to violate them as well. In the 1980s and 1990s, city governments and police departments stepped up their enforcement measures against petty crimes, such as painting graffiti, panhandling, littering, and subway fare jumping. The hope was that by minimizing public disorder, the police would help communities create crime-deterrent environments. Most of the evidence for the value of this kind of policing is based on studies of what happened to crime rates once police began to crack down on incivilities. In recent years, some analyses have questioned the broken windows theory as a strategy for effective policing.

Now, a new study (additional online info here) published in Science provides some strong experimental backing for the broken windows theory. Dutch researchers from the University of Groningen, led by social scientist Kees Keizer. conducted six experiments to see if signs of disorder would encourage people to engage in norm violation themselves.

The short answer: Yes.

Read the whole thing.

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