is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Barbara Klein. This week, we tell about two recent studies
by teams of social scientists. One study
showed that signs of disorderly behavior and theft lead to additional acts of
crime. The other study explored whether
punishment leads to greater cooperation among groups and individuals.
Imagine that you live on a street
where there are broken windows, graffiti painted on buildings and waste on the
ground. Would this environment lead to
other acts of property damage or crime?
European researchers say the
answer is yes. The researchers say they
found strong evidence that signs of disorder can lead individuals to carry out
criminal acts or bad behavior. The
researchers work at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. They reported their findings in Science magazine last November. Their report is called "The Spreading of
idea that observing disorder has an effect on people's behavior is not new. In nineteen eighty-two, American researchers James
Wilson and George Kelling wrote a report describing what they called the broken
windows theory. They believed that signs
of crime, such as broken windows in a building, led to other acts of crime.
the nineteen nineties, New York City officials started a campaign to remove
signs of disorder like broken windows, graffiti markings and trash. Soon, the rate of minor crimes in New York
began to drop. Other cities around the
world also began to use this crime-fighting method.
But the broken windows theory was
also disputed. Experts said there was
still no experimental evidence to prove that the drop in crime was a direct
result of efforts to clean up city neighborhoods.
said other influences could have caused the drop in crime. Also, the broken windows theory did not fully
investigate the exact conditions of disorders that appeared to lead to crime.
study from the Netherlands now provides the experimental information to support
the broken windows theory.
carry out the experiment, a team led by Kees Keizer set up several situations
in public areas to test people's behavior. One experiment took place in Groningen on a quiet street where people
left their bicycles. The researchers
left a piece of paper on the handlebars of the bicycles while their owners were
away. They wanted to see under what
conditions people would demonstrate the behavior of littering, or leaving the
paper on the street.
When a wall near the bicycles was covered in
graffiti, sixty nine percent of individuals left the paper in the street or on
a nearby bicycle. But only thirty three
percent of the individuals littered when the area lacked graffiti.
Other experiments tested how people acted
when faced with rules set by police, rules set by a local business, and rules
set by national law. In all situations, people
were more likely to violate the rules when there were nearby signs of
disorderly behavior than if there were no signs of disorder.
carried out an experiment to test if signs of disorder that were heard had the
same effect as signs that were seen. In
the Netherlands, it is illegal to explode firecrackers in the weeks before New
Year's Day. So, the researchers once again
placed pieces of paper on several parked bicycles. When firecrackers were set off nearby, people
picking up their bicycles were more likely to litter than when there was no
firecracker noise. Eighty percent of
people who heard the noise threw the paper on the ground. Without the fireworks, fifty two percent did
The researchers say their report holds
important meaning for policy makers and crime enforcement workers. It proves that identifying and correcting
small signs of disorder before they grow into bigger problems can be an important
step in fighting the spread of crime.
You are listening to the VOA Special
English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS. With Barbara Klein, I'm Bob Doughty in Washington.
Results of another study were published
in Science magazine in December. The report was called "The Long-Run Benefits
of Punishment." Economists at the
University of Nottingham in Britain wanted to test whether the threat of
punishment causes social groups to cooperate more fully.
question is part of a model used by experimental economists to explain social
and individual behavior. When societies
cooperate with the aim of creating a public good, there is always the
possibility of a free-rider. A
free-rider uses the public good without helping to create or support it. For example, many Americans believe the
country's public television service is a kind of public good. People donate money to help support public
television and its programming. A
free-rider might refuse to donate money but still enjoys watching the programs.
The University of
Nottingham study examined whether the possibility of punishing free-riders
leads to better group results. The study
was carried out with the help of about two hundred volunteers. They used computers at the university to carry
out the experiment. The volunteers sat
in such a way that they could not see one another's computer screens. They also were not permitted to speak to one
of three people were given twenty tokens in the computer program. Each token represented an amount of
money. An individual could keep the
object or donate it as part of a group project. If the person kept the token, it was worth one
unit of money. If a person donated the
token to a group project, the token was worth half of that amount to each
person in the group.
half of the groups, a person could chose to punish another individual who did
not donate to the public project. Punishment
cost the punisher one unit of money. The
person being punished had his or her money reduced by three units.
For the other groups, there was no way
to punish people who did not cooperate on the public project. The results showed that if punishment was
possible, the group cooperated better on the public project and donated more
money towards its goal.
The groups were asked to play this game either ten
times or fifty times. The two time periods
tested whether people were more likely to act differently in the short term
than in the long term. The results
suggested that people do act differently if they think they are working with a
group for a short period of time instead of a long period.
Simon Gaechter was one of the
researchers for this project. He says
his team's research is influenced by questions in evolutionary biology about
why people and groups use costly punishment. Some studies suggest that punishment can be
too costly to be useful. But Professor
Gaechter says his team's theory was that punishment has only low costs because
it needs to be used rarely and works as a threat. And, the experiment proved the theory.
The professor gave an example of
his team's experiment. Standing in line
is a form of social cooperation. Everyone
must wait in line when, for example, waiting to mail a package or letter at the
post office. Each individual has a
reason to want to jump ahead in line to avoid the cost of waiting. But usually people do not cut ahead in line,
even if the other people in line are strangers and may never be seen again.
One reason for not
cheating is that a person might fear being criticized in public for cutting in
line. Professor Gaechter says social
order in general can be explained as a system in which individuals behave
cooperatively and follow social rules. This
is because of the threat of punishment. Punishment can include social criticism, and
police or legal enforcement.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Dana Demange. Brianna Blake was our producer. I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Bob
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