Perceptions of disorder: Contributions of neighborhood characteristics to subjective perceptions of disorder

Luisa Franzini, Margaret O.Brien Caughy, Saundra Murray Nettles, Patricia O'Campo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theoretical explanations and empirical evidence of how disorder is perceived and its relation to independently observed measures of disorder are rare. In recent work, Sampson and Raudenbush [2004. Seeing disorder: Neighborhood stigma and the social construction of "Broken Windows". Social Psychology Quarterly, 67(4), 319-342] investigated how individuals form perceptions of disorder and found that perceptions of disorder in Chicago neighborhoods are shaped not only by observable conditions of disorder, but also by neighborhoods' racial and socioeconomic composition. In this paper, we investigate the bases for perceiving disorder with data from Baltimore using a methodology similar to that used by Sampson and Raudenbush (2004). Using surveys, systematic social observations, census data, and police records to investigate variations in individual perceptions of disorder at the individual and neighborhood levels, this study, consistent with the literature, finds that visual cues of disorder are not unambiguous and that perceptions of disorder are based not only on neighborhood observed disorder but also on individual characteristics of residents and neighborhood social structure. Additionally, our findings indicate that neighborhood poverty and not neighborhood racial composition affects perceptions of disorder in Baltimore. The fact that these findings are in contrast to the findings in Chicago suggests that the influence of racial segregation on perception of disorder is imbedded in the larger historical context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-93
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Neighborhood poverty
  • Perceived disorder
  • Residential racial segregation
  • Systematic social observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Applied Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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