Scientists find that a cluttered environment leads to discrimination, stereotyping, and antisocial behavior

Last Thursday, Discover Magazine published the article “Disordered environments promote stereotypes and discrimination.” The article examines a study by Dutch researchers who performed five experiments on stereotyping and discrimination. All five of the experiments strongly concluded that when an environment is in disarray, people yearn for order and hastily attempt to put information they’ve gathered from their surroundings into categories. This leads to harsher stereotypes against minority populations and higher incidence of crime. The experiments also found that people are more relaxed, open minded, and generous when their world is orderly.

When our surroundings are full of chaos — be it dirt or uncertainty — we react by seeking order, structure and predictability. Stereotypes, for all their problems, satisfy that need.

The study continues:

“The message for policy-makers is clear: One way to fight unwanted stereotyping and discrimination is to diagnose environmental disorder early and to intervene immediately by cleaning up and creating physical order. Signs of disorder such as broken windows, graffiti, and scattered litter will not only increase antisocial behaviour, they will also automatically lead to stereotyping and discrimination. Investing in repair and renovation, and preventing neighborhoods [from falling] into disarray, may be relatively inexpensive and effective ways reduce stereotyping and discrimination.”

The testing methods were very interesting, so I recommend checking out the full article for details.

(Images from Discover Magazine. Thanks to the many readers who forwarded us this article.)

9 Comments for “Scientists find that a cluttered environment leads to discrimination, stereotyping, and antisocial behavior”

  1. posted by Michael on

    The “Broken Windows Theory” ( is also nicely illustrated in Malcolm Gladwells Book “The Tipping Point”.

  2. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    Very interesting. I know that in my own household when it was it’s fullest, if I worked to keep it in order, the kids were more likely to help keep it that way.
    Going to go read this article!

  3. posted by Caroline D on

    Interesting to consider whether environmental chaos and the desire for order causes or merely spurs on the extreme racial polarization that leads to “ethnic cleansing” and genocide.

  4. posted by Chris on

    Awesome study! Thank you for posting that. I was a little skeptical at first, but I just finished reading the full article, and the results are hard to argue with.

  5. posted by Marilyn on

    I live downtown in a city with a lot of crime. I wonder they paid kids to clean up areas in the summer (when crime is the highest cuz the weather is nice) if crime rate would lower. Very interting article.

  6. posted by Lori on

    I live in a village 20 minutes from Utrecht in the Netherlands and I am amazed at how much people throw on the street. I just asked a woman in the neighborhood to pick up after her dog. I told her that I love dogs and other dogs can become sick from the feces of other dogs. It just saddens me. It is a pretty country despite the dog poop covered sidewalks. Thank you for sharing this article

  7. posted by bt on

    Wait, how is it “stereotyping” to look at a place with broken windows, graffiti, and trash everywhere and conclude that those committing the robberies, vandalism, and other property crimes are criminals?

    Or have the PC/multiculturalism/perpetual-victim squad declared disdain for criminals to be a racist sexist extremist thought crime?

  8. posted by Jeanine on

    Yet another benefit of de-cluttering. I’ve been on a de-cluttering streak now for a good year and it’s become a way of life. Thanks for continuing share great, thought-provoking information about the subject. I shared it with my readers today via link at:

  9. posted by Stephanie on

    I remember reading similar research findings in Malcom Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” several years ago. It’s a fascinating conclusion…that makes sense. Business developers, community members, and city councils ought to take note.

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