Create Harmony by Reducing Environmental Disorder

Have you ever noticed that when your home, office and surroundings are clean, orderly and attractive, that the people around you seem to get along?  Less stuff means that you have less to manage, less stress with bills, and more opportunities to develop your relationships. 

Recently, Discover Magazine reported a series of fascinating studies that investigated the impact of disordered environments on people’s friendliness with others. The researchers discovered that when the environments showed signs of disorder, such as with scattered litter, graffiti and broken windows,
people had more stereotyped views. Even more, it increased the likelihood of more littering, trespassing, and antisocial behavior. This supports the theory that disorder breeds disorder.

For example, two Dutch anthropologists went into a wealthy neighborhood and subtly altered the environment by parking a car on the pavement, abandoning a bicycle in the street, and misplacing some of the pavement tiles. Then they gave volunteers a questionnaire about their views towards others and asked if they could donate some of that money to a charity called Money for Minorities.  The next day, the researchers ran the experiment again, but this time the tiles, car and bicycles were arranged in neat and orderly places. 

When the environment was unkempt the volunteers expressed more stereotypical views and gave less to charity. Those who had the strongest need for structure also made the most stereotyped judgments. By contrast, when the environment was orderly, people where more charitable and prosocial. This suggests that investing in repair and renovation, and preventing neighborhoods from falling into disarray can be effective ways of promoting healthy social behavior while reducing stereotyping and discrimination.