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The term ”broken windows” is used to signify the characteristics of neighborhood deterioration. They argue that if a broken window in a building or in a car is left untended, other signs of disorder will increase. Wilson and Kelling (1982) suggest that an unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares for the neighborhood. They argued that if the window is left broken, it can lead to more serious crime problems.
Philip Zimbardo (1969), a psychologist, tested the broken window theory with some experiments. He arranged that a car without a license plate be parked in a Bronx neighborhood and a comparable car be parked in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was destroyed within ten minutes; while the car in Palo Alto was left untouched for more than a week. After Zimbardo smashed the car in Palo Alto, passersby started to vandalize the car. In each case once each car started to be destroyed and looked abandoned, with more destruction, vandalism, and stealing soon following.
Signs of neighborhood deterioration or disorder, such as broken windows, can lead to the breakdown of social controls. In stable neighborhoods, residents tend to watch out and care more for their property, children, and public safety. Residents in these neighborhoods are more attached to their neighborhood and more likely to consider their neighborhood as their home. Thus, any broken windows or other signs of disorder in these stable neighborhoods will soon be addressed and fixed. In these stable neighborhoods, more informal social controls are exercised by residents, the result being that crime is less likely to invade such areas. On the other hand, when a neighborhood can no longer regulate signs of public disorder, such as broken windows, more deterioration and even serious crime can result (Wilson and Kelling 1982).
- Zimbardo, P. G. (1969) The Cognitive Control of Motivation. Scott, Foresman, Glenview, IL.
- Wilson, J. Q. & Kelling, G. (1982) Broken windows: the police and neighborhood safety. Atlantic Monthly (March): 29—38.
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