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.)