Sunday, January 18, 2009

Broken Window Theory

This is so interesting and relevant to Cambodia.

Scientists in the Netherlands show in an experiment how "ordinary people are more likely to violate rules in situations where other rules — even completely unrelated ones — have already been broken," according to an article called"Chaos Begets Chaos" by SEED magazine. "This might form the basis of a social model for understanding how disorder spreads," the writer notes.

Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg (University of Groningen) stuck an envelope visibly containing a five-euro note out of a mailbox on a sidewalk. Thirteen per cent of passersby stole the money. But more than double, or 27 per cent, stole when the same mailbox was covered in graffiti.

In another experiment, 27 percent of passersby walked through a gate which had a sign that said (a) do not walk through and (b) do not chain your bike to the fence. But when there were bikes already chained to the fence, a whopping 82 per cent walked through. One violation led to another.

The results lend weight to the "Broken Window Theory (BWT), first proposed by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982. BWT suggest that disorder in the form of broken windows, litter, and graffiti can encourage delinquent behavior. So to tackle "big" criminal behaviour like theft, fix "smaller" problems like litter and graffiti first. It seems that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani subscribed to the theory and to cut crime in the big city.

If Cambodia starts prosecuting people for the small things like littering and peeing in public, who knows how the country will change for the better?

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