A brief visit to a neighborhood induces the social attitudes of that neighborhood

Jan 14, 2014

Spending as little as 45 minutes in a high-crime, deprived neighbourhood can have measurable effects on people's trust in others and their feelings of paranoia. In a new study, students who visited high crime neighbourhoods quickly developed a level of trust and paranoia comparable to the residents of that neighbourhood, and significantly different from that in more low-crime neighbourhoods. As a result, urban planners should carefully consider the psychological effects of the environment.

Researchers in the UK studied two of the same city only a few kilometres apart, one economically deprived and relatively high in crime, and the other affluent and relatively low in crime. They initially surveyed the and found that the residents of the high-crime neighbourhood reported lower feelings of social and higher feelings of than the residents of the other neighbourhood. Then, in an effort to understand how these feelings had come to exist, they enrolled over 50 student volunteers (who were not from either neighbourhood) and bussed them to one or other neighbourhood at random. The volunteers, who did not know the purpose of the study, spent up to 45 minutes walking the streets and delivering envelopes to houses. Afterwards, the volunteers were also surveyed about their feelings of social trust and paranoia. Those sent to the disorderly neighbourhood reported lower trust and higher paranoia than those sent to the affluent neighbourhood. Moreover, even after such a brief visit, the visitors to a neighbourhood had become indistinguishable from the residents of that neighbourhood in terms of their levels of trust and paranoia.

The study, entitled "Being there: a brief visit to a neighbourhood induces the social attitudes of that neighbourhood" was published in the open access journal, PeerJ, on January 14th.

It was already known that living in a deprived area is associated with poorer and a less trusting outlook. However, the previous correlational studies had not been able to establish causality: do people become less trusting as a response to the deprivation that surrounds them, or do people who were less trusting to start with tend to reside in more deprived areas? It was to try to address this question that the researchers came up with their random 'bussing' experiment. Since the volunteers were assigned to the neighbourhood at random, any differences in their attitudes after the visit would reflect the of the experiences they had just had.

"We weren't surprised that the residents of our high-crime neighbourhood were relatively low in trust and high in paranoia", says lead researcher Daniel Nettle of Newcastle University. "That makes sense. What did surprise us though was that a very short visit to the neighbourhood appeared to have much the same effects on trust and paranoia as long-term residence there." The results suggest that people respond in real time to the sights and sounds of a neighbourhood – for example, broken windows, graffiti, litter, and razor-wire on houses – and that they use these cues to update their attitudes concerning how other people will behave. "It's a striking illustration of the extent to which our attitudes and our are malleable and are powerfully influenced by the social environment that surrounds us on a day-to-day basis. Policy-makers, , and citizens need to remember this. Improving the quality and security of the urban environment is not just a cosmetic luxury; it could have profound knock-on effects for city-dwellers' social relationships and mental health".

Explore further: One in three Bangladeshis and Pakistanis living 'in deprived neighbourhoods'

More information: Nettle D, Pepper GV, Jobling R, Schroeder KB. (2014) Being there: a brief visit to a neighbourhood induces the social attitudes of that neighbourhood. PeerJ 2:e236 dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.236

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Group effort generates more cycling interest

Dec 23, 2013

Improving an individual's self-belief and social support are the most useful strategies to promote the uptake of cycling in Australia, according to a study of Perth residents.

Neighbourhood links to health and wellbeing

Aug 16, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- People who live in safer, cleaner and friendly neighbourhoods experience higher levels of health and wellbeing as they age, a new Flinders University study shows.

Residents feel safer with walkable, retail space

Oct 08, 2013

The characteristics of walkable neighbourhoods have been explored for their associations with perceived crime risk and fear of crime in Perth's new suburban housing developments.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.