Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2005, $199,439)
Recent theoretical developments in social psychology suggest that one prominent element of the Neighborhood Watch program'publicly displayed Neighborhood Watch signs'might undermine its effectiveness. These signs might inadvertently convey a normative message that 'crime happens in this area' and as a result lead to an increase in perceptions about crime rates and likelihood of victimization. To date, no studies have tested elements of the Neighborhood Watch programs from a social norms perspective.
To examine the impact of Neighborhood Watch signs, a set of three laboratory experiments will be conducted. First, using a simulated community tour, an experiment will examine the impact of posted Neighborhood Watch signs on perceived likelihood of victimization and safeness of the community. The second lab experiment will examine the moderating role of community socioeconomic status on the impact of the Neighborhood Watch signs. Prior research suggests that the program is least effective in high crime areas, and based on the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, we propose that publicly posted Neighborhood Watch signs focus attention on the contextual cues of the community. As a result, we predict that the signs will be least effective, and in fact produce a boomerang effect, in low SES communities. The third laboratory experiment will examine the potential for the physical condition of Neighborhood Watch signs to moderate the impact of the signs. This relationship will be examined in both high and low SES communities. We expect that aged or defaced Neighborhood Watch signs convey a normative message that is in opposition to that stated explicitly by the sign, thus undermining the sign's effectiveness. Participants in the proposed experiments will be recruited from the Human Participant Pool at a University comprised largely of students who commute to campus from various communities, and therefore represent a diverse sample of homeowners, renters, and prospective homebuyers.
The findings from these studies will have important implications for community-based crime prevention programs across the country, by providing empirical evidence regarding the efficacy of publicly displayed crime-prevention messages, as well as offering guidance for effective alternatives.