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Graffiti Matters

December 16, 2008

Graffiti has unintended side-effects.


Cleaning up the streets. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Would you break the law just because someone else did, too? It turns out that many people will. Social scientist Kees Keizer of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands ran experiments on unsuspecting people. His team discovered that people were almost twice as likely to litter in an alley that was full of graffiti compared to a clean one. And they were also about twice as likely to steal an envelope full of money from a mailbox if there was graffiti on the box.

KEES KEIZER (University of Groningen, Netherlands):
To our amazement, I must say. We expected an effect, but there were people I least expected to take the envelope.

Keizer says this shows that when rule-breaking behavior becomes common, it leads to more and different rule-breaking behavior. That’s something consider the next time you’re tempted to litter. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.