“Broken Windows” theory proven correct

A theory claiming that a disorderly and unkept neighbourhood can encourage bad behaviour and low-level delinquency has now been proved empirically.

The theory, called the Broken Windows theory, has been around since the 80ies, and is based on the assumption and earlier anecdotal observations that a broken window or grafitti in a neighbourhood can often lead to further vandalism and more broken windows, and from the general assumption that an unkept neigbourhood feels “unsafe”.

Researchers in the Netherlands set out to test this theory, and for that purpose created a number of controlled experimental settings in street alleys, where the behaviour of passers-bys was observed secretly. Some of these situations had ordered and tidy surroundings, and some had littered and unkept surroundings, and in each of these the research subjects had a choice between a “good/unselfish” course of action and a bad/selfish one. What they found was that the research subjects in the disordered environments were at least twice as likely to choose the bad/selfish alternative, by littering further, stealing etc, compared to the research subjects in the ordered environments.

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