Crime Begets Grime

See some litter, leave some litter. Such is the conclusion of a study by Dutch researchers that found people are more likely to commit small crimes when in a litter-strewn or vandalized area. The reverse was also found to be true, with people more willing to litter in crime-ridden environments. This thinking has lead cities like New York to embrace a controversial "broken windows" policing theory: that more serious criminal activity can often be deterred by strictly policing minor offenses like panhandling, vandalism, etc. The study was published in the journal Science.

The psychological reasoning at work, say researchers, is that signs of social disorder preempt people's willingness to act for the good of the community, allowing selfish and greedy acts to take over. To test this theory, scientists attached advertising fliers to bikes parked near a wall featuring a "No Graffiti" sign. When the wall was graffiti-free, 33 percent of the bikers left the fliers on the ground or attached them to other bikes. After painting graffiti on the wall, the number of litterers rose to 69 percent. Similar experiments confirmed people were more likely to litter in shopping cart-strewn parking lots and near the detonation of illegal fireworks.

In another experiment, people were more likely to take an envelope containing 5 euros left dangling from a mailbox when that mailbox was surrounded by litter, and even more likely once the mailbox was covered with graffiti.

So why don't people go utterly berserk in garbage dumps?

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times