Friday, November 21, 2008

Study Shows Minor Rule Breaking Encourages Social Disorder

Science magazine has published the results of some Dutch research showing "that when people observe that others violated a certain social norm or legitimate rule, they are more likely to violate even other norms or rules, which causes disorder to spread." Littering, trespassing and stealing all increased when people saw evidence that others had disregarded social norms.

Supporters of gay marriage often say they can't understand how their marriages could affect others. The answer is that those around us really do respond to social cues. Disorder breeds more disorder, and not necessarily of exactly the same kind. In the Dutch research, one sign of disorder would lead to a very large increase in another form of social disorder. This Dutch study would seem to support the idea that, as gay marriage is seen as a violation of social norms, it could lead to increases in divorces and in children born out of wedlock.

An AP article summarizes the study:
In normal behavior most people try to act appropriately to the circumstances, explained lead author Kees Keizer of the faculty of behavioral and social sciences at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. But some tend to avoid effort or seek ways to gain for themselves.

Things like littering an area or applying graffiti change the circumstances by indicating that others are not behaving correctly, which weakens the incentive for people to do the right thing.

So the researchers were not surprised that people littered more in messy area, for example. But, added Keizer: "We were, however, surprised by the size of the effect."

Here's an example.

The researchers found a tidy alley in a shopping area where people parked their bicycles. There was a no-littering sign on the wall.

The researchers attached flyers for a nonexistent store to the bike handlebars and observed behavior.

Under normal circumstances, 33 percent of riders littered the alley with the flyer. But after researchers defaced the alley wall with graffiti, the share of riders who littered with the flyers jumped to 69 percent.

They did a half-dozen similar experiments, all with similar results.


The other experiments of the Dutch researchers that the AP article provides clearly show that when people saw that rules were not enforced, they generalized this and broke other rules. In one case a sign was posted forbidding locking bikes to a fence, but bikes were locked to the fence. In another case a sign said to return shopping carts to the market, but many carts were left around the parking lot. When people saw that the rules weren't being enforced, they then broke another social norm or rule to avoid the minor inconvenience of following the rule or to obtain a benefit (stealing).
While the study seems to deliver a negative message, Keizer pointed out that "it also shows that municipal officials and the public can have a significant impact on the influence of norms and rules on behavior."
Of course, this also applies to church leaders. What happens when people see rules in the Prayer Book disregarded by the ministers of the church, e.g., gay marriage or, for example, open communion. Ministers think they appear generous by offering open communion, while, in reality, they may be signaling to congregants that rule breaking is accepted in this church. (Hmmm, I wonder if in this circumstance more people would be apt to steal from the collection plate?)

AP summarizes some of the tests:
Test Two:

A fence partly closed off the main entrance to a parking lot. There was a narrow gap and a no-admittance sign that pointed out a new entry, 200 yards away. A second sign prohibited locking bikes to the fence.

When the fence was clear, 27 percent of people heading for their cars ignored the no-admittance sign and squeezed through the gap in the fence. But after several bikes were locked to the fence in defiance of that ban, 82 percent of people going to their cars squeezed through the prohibited entry.

Test Three:

Flyers were placed under the windshield wipers of cars in a parking garage next to a market. A sign on the wall asked people to return their shopping carts to the market.

When the lot was clear of shopping carts, 30 percent of drivers littered the lot with the flyers. But when a few carts were left in a disorderly state around the garage, 58 percent of people littered.

Test Four:

Two weeks before New Year's Day researchers visited a bicycle parking shed near a train station and attached flyers to the handlebars. Under normal conditions 52 percent of the riders littered the shed with the flyers. Then the researchers set off fireworks outside the shed — which residents know is illegal in the period before New Year. Hearing the fireworks, 80 percent of riders littered the shed.

Tests Five and Six:

An envelope with money visible through the address window was placed sticking out of a mailbox.

Under ordinary conditions 13 percent of passers-by stole the envelope.

When the same mailbox was defaced with graffiti the percentage taking the money jumped to 27 percent.

After researchers cleaned the mailbox, but messed up the area around it with litter, 25 percent stole the money.

Conclusion: If leaders want people to "do the right thing", leaders must maintain social norms and enforce the rules.

14 comments:

The Underground Pewster said...

Good point, but the evidence from the experimental observations cannot be taken as proof of the negative effects of unsound preaching. It provides enough information for a hypothesis. Let me propose we do a confirmatory study to see if this holds true in the Church. I have a preacher who sometimes puts out verbal graffiti in the course of a sermon. I will send him to your church for a few Sundays, and then we can see if those little weekly giving envelopes walk out the door instead of being put in the plate.

Perpetua said...

"Verbal grafitti"
That made me laugh.

BillyD said...

The problem with drawing conclusions about the debate on gay marriage from this study would seem to be, to my admittedly biased eye, that they are two different sorts of things. Gay marriage seems to involve more a re-writing of the rules than a breaking of them. The study doesn't say that social disorder arises from changing the rules, but from ignoring them.

Of course, if you want to insist that the rules should never change, you're within your rights - but that's a different argument.

Perpetua said...

Hi BillyD,

I think you are saying that, in your eyes, gay marriage is not a violation of social norms but merely a change in the rules.

The GLBT activists make arguments for gay marriage that presuppose marriage is about romantic love. Women with children understand that marriage is about binding the fathers of the children to the family. Changing the rules of marriage is directing the institution away from the protection of mothers and children, and thus causing social disorder.

While the media has been reporting that 70% of Blacks voted Yes on Prop 8, when further broken down by gender, we find that 75% of Black women voted Yes on Prop 8. Remember that about 70% of Black children in the USA are born out of wedlock. While the media has been presenting the Black vote as a Black church issue, I think we should see it as a call for help by Black women. They need society to help them get their men back into marriages and supporting their children.

BillyD said...

The GLBT activists make arguments for gay marriage that presuppose marriage is about romantic love.

Well, Western society has been saying that it's primarily about romantic love for some time now. It's an unsound argument, but it's not something that GLBT activists pulled out of a hat.

Even a conservative should be able to acknowledge that love (albeit not romance) plays a significant part in marriage, though. At least, you should be able to acknowledge it if you agree with the Book of Common Prayer; among the several mentions of love in the 1662 marriage service, the union between Christ and his Church (which human marriage symbolizes) is described primarily in terms of love and cherishing.

Women with children understand that marriage is about binding the fathers of the children to the family.

I agree that this sort of family stability is one of the aims of marriage. It can hardly be the meaning of of marriage, however, or the Church would forbid the infertile and the aged from marrying.

Dr.D said...

This study is simply another confirmation of a concept that has been well known for a long time. This is the basis for laws and regulations requiring property owners to clean up graffiti, repair damaged property (broken windows, etc.) in order to avoid the development of a general run-down appearance in an area.

With regard to things like deviations from the rubrics in the BCP, I think that there is no question but that it works in exactly the same way. If we can dismiss this rubric, why can we not dismiss that one as well? It is usually the Priest who makes the call on these matters, but he will be subject to a lot of input from the parish on some of these topics, sometimes very forcefully. Often this results in simply abandoning the BCP entirely and using a free-form, make-it-up as you go liturgy (ugh!).

Perpetua said...

Hi Dr. D.
I think you are right. This study provides social science research backing up the "broken window" theory. Cities(like New York under Mayor Giuliani) have been acting on this theory with good results. But naysayers would argue that there were too many other factors in play to draw definitive conclusions. These experiments provide clear proof.

flmignon78 said...

Isn't unsolicited or irrelevant information called junk, trash, or garbage? Isn't litter also called garbage? In electronic terms, aren't unsolicited messages- spam- considered junk and/or garbage?

Why would that study single out the innocent bicyclist? The act of littering initially happened when the sneaky person tried to advertise without paying to have the information properly disemminated through the apropriate channels (radio, tv, newspaper...). Why would moving the object a few feet vertically suddenly make the bicyclist guilty of littering. It sounds like litterbug was the cheap advertiser, and the victim was the bicyclist.

When the experiment messed with people's lives by creating pointless rules which were contrived to cause chaos to the innocent people who parked in the spots where security did not discourage the freeloading advertisers from littering on other peoples property.

Grafiti violates an owners right to have decent looking property. Trespassing violates the owners right to not have unexpected occupants on his or her property. Stealing is violating an owners right to be in possession or control of ones own property. Littering violates the owner's right to have "clean" property. In all of those examples, someone's inherent rights were violated. Gay marriages does not infringe or violate any ones rights, so unfortunately the social science magazine spent what sounds like a good deal of time and money on the frivolous experiment, and after reading the article and summary a few times, there was no evidence that suggested that gay marriages cause people to violate others rights.

The people who left the flyers on the handlebars should be held accountable for causing the unnecessary burden for the bicycler to deal with the trash (fanatic ideas) on his/her bicycle. Regardless of where the paper ended up after the bicyclist had to deal with it, it was the originator of the flyer/trash who committed the act of violating the bicyclers right to have a bicycle free of litter. The one who is in the wrong is not the bicycler, it is the distributor of the flyer (proponents of segregation among same-sex couples and heterosexual couples).

Perpetua said...

Hi flmignon78,

The researchers did not conclude anything about gay marriage. That was my idea. The researchers did successfully show that the appearance that others were breaking social rules led to an amazing increase in rule breaking.

This research confirms the "Broken Window" theory expounded by Wilson in the 1980's. The successful clean-up of crime (burglery, robbery) in New York was implemented based on this theory. However, people had previously argued that the success may have been due to other causes. This new study adds evidence to support that the crime reduction in New York was dues to the efforts to stop minor rule breaking (graffiti, subway turnstile jumping, etc.).

I agree with you that leaving flyers on bicycles or car windshields is offensive, littering on the person's vehicle. I would be happy to have a law against "leafleting" vehicles. However, if we respond to this offense by throwing the flyer on the ground, this study has now proven, we create an appearance of rule breaking that others perceive as permission to violate other social norms, possibly even theft.

The most important and disturbing of these experiments is the one where the appearance of litter and graffiti led to a huge increase in theft. It is very scary to realize that ordinary people who would not steal otherwise, will steal under those circumstances.

Now, I understand you think I am making a huge leap with the gay marriage analogy, but that is because you don't view gay marriage as violating social norms. We know that a majority of the population does because of the voting results in state after state. So there is a large number of people who view gay marriage as violating social norms, and if gay marriage is permitted, will feel that they have been given license to violate the social norms in ways that are attractive to them.

flmignon78 said...

So, back in the 60s, by that logic, is it safe to assume that you would have supported segregation based on race, and you'd have supported the continued illegality of interracial marriages, because blacks marrying whites and colored folks using a white restroom would have been considered by a great number of people as breaking the social norm? Or have you changed your opinion on that subject too since now blacks are- by legal definition- equal to whites? Whatever your answer is, are would you have treated it as with same-sex marriages, and been a proponent of de-legitimizing the interracial marriages and returning to the equal but separate meeting places, public facilities, and education?

Perpetua said...

Dear flmignon78,

Most African-Americans, the group that has genuinely experiences racial discrimination, do not agree with the parallel you make between racial discrimination and maintaining the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman. In the recent election in California, the great majority of black voters, 70%, voted for Prop 8, the ballot measure that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Many blacks have written why they are offended by homosexual claims that their situation is comparable to blacks in America. Why do you persist in offending black people with this false claim?

Marriage is an institution developed around the unique aspect of heterosexual behavior, procreation. Marriage engages the male sexual partner in the full consequences of conception, a unique feature of heterosexual sex. Women become pregnant due to heterosexual intercourse, so society uses marriage to provide a woman with the security of her sexual partner’s support during pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing and provide the child that results from heterosexual sex with a mother and a father.

It is appropriate for society to disallow two people with the same genitals, who inherently cannot sexually reproduce, from gaining the benefits of an institution created to socialize heterosexual procreative behavior. Any argument that this is “discrimination” requires denial of the unique aspects of heterosexual intercourse and shows a disregard for the consequences to the woman in a heterosexual relationship and a disregard for children.

I suppose that as an infertile man with a barren wife who has adopted children, your attitude toward marriage is based on your self esteem needs – because you can not procreate, you wish society to devalue heterosexual procreation. It is unfortunate that you could not open your mind to the larger, long term ramifications of your position.

I do not want our society to teach our children that oral and anal gratification is equivalent to sexual procreation. But that is what you are advocating when you say it is discrimination not to allow homosexuals to marry.

BillyD said...

"Most African-Americans, the group that has genuinely experiences racial discrimination, do not agree with the parallel you make between racial discrimination and maintaining the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman....Why do you persist in offending black people with this false claim?"

Really, Perpetua, whether or not Blacks approve of the claim is neither here nor there. They don't own the topic of discrimination, after all. Isn't this appeal to offended feelings the same thing that conservatives complain that liberals do all the time?

"It is appropriate for society to disallow two people with the same genitals, who inherently cannot sexually reproduce, from gaining the benefits of an institution created to socialize heterosexual procreative behavior."

You are begging the question, Perpetua. The idea that marriage evolved primarily to safeguard childrearing (rather than, say, to safeguard property) is your own invention. You may be right or not, but it's not as if it came with an instruction manual. It certainly isn't the reason given for marriage in the Bible, where Eve is created to be a fit companion to Adam.

"I suppose that as an infertile man with a barren wife who has adopted children..."

Whoa, Perpetua. "Barren"? Fields are barren, wastelands are barren, but women are only barren in the Bible and Victorian literature.

..."your attitude toward marriage is based on your self esteem needs – because you can not procreate, you wish society to devalue heterosexual procreation."

This is a below-the-belt bit of armchair psychology. Are only people with children allowed an opinion on the subject?

"I do not want our society to teach our children that oral and anal gratification is equivalent to sexual procreation. But that is what you are advocating when you say it is discrimination not to allow homosexuals to marry."

You could also argue that by allowing infertile couples to marry, society is teaching that penile/vaginal gratification is the equivalent of sexual procreation. But you won't.

BillyD said...

To amend my last post - for "Are only people with children allowed an opinion on the subject?" read "Are only people with biological children of their own allowed an opinion on the subject?"

Perpetua said...

Hi BillyD,

While you are certainly right that Blacks don't own the topic of discrimination, they do have some authority with the topic of racial discrimination, and particularly discrimination against Blacks, which was the flmignon78's analogy. It is relevant that the majority of Blacks reject this analogy. You are right that hurt feelings are not the issue.

When I used "barren", I was repeating the language flmigignon78 used himself in his comments on this thread. In his first comment on December 11, 2008 8:53 PM he posed it as a hypothetical, but in his later comment of December 12, 2008 9:15 PM, he wrote "my wife is barren- she can not bare/produce children, neither can I."

I asked him to read this thread and he did, so the conversation moved over here, sort of midstream.

Of course everyone has a right to an opinion and registered voters have a right to vote as well. However, it is appropriate to consider what is the motivation of the opinion. And to ask whether the opinions are justifications for self-serving, and in what way: financial, psychological, etc. "What's the Matter With Kansas" assumed we should all vote our (short term) pocket book. But the people in Kansas's concerns about cultural values trumped what would have been in their personal financial benefit.

Clearly, it is to the financial benefit of gays and lesbians to try to change the definition of marriage to obtain certain financial/tax benefits of marriage. And it is clear that it is to the psychological benefit of those who do not procreate to downgrade any social status attributed to having procreated. Those are self serving motivations that need to be weighed against the greater effects on the society. Conservatives say that we need to be careful about making changes because there will almost certainly be unanticipated consequences. With regard to gay marriage, many concerns regarding the long term implications with respect to sexual procreation, child rearing and social cohesion have been raised and dismissed by those seeking personal benefit. I do think it is relevant to point out the personal benefit motivation.