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Disorder, social capital, and norm violation: Three field experiments on the broken windows thesis


  • Marc Keuschnigg

    (Department of Sociology, LMU Munich, Germany)

  • Tobias Wolbring

    (Professorship for Social Psychology and Research on Higher Education, ETH Zurich, Switzerland)


Adding to the debate about the “broken windows†thesis we discuss an explanation of minor norm violation based on the assumption that individuals infer expected sanctioning probabilities from contextual cues. We modify the classical framework of rational crime by signals of disorder, local social control, and their interaction. Testing our implications we present results from three field experiments showing that violations of norms, which prevent physical as well as social disorder, foster further violations of the same and of different norms. Varying the net gains from deviance it shows that disorder effects are limited to low-cost situations. Moreover, we provide suggestive evidence that disorder effects are significantly stronger in neighborhoods with high social capital.

Suggested Citation

  • Marc Keuschnigg & Tobias Wolbring, 2015. "Disorder, social capital, and norm violation: Three field experiments on the broken windows thesis," Rationality and Society, , vol. 27(1), pages 96-126, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ratsoc:v:27:y:2015:i:1:p:96-126

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 163-190, Winter.
    2. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Bicchieri, Cristina & Erte, Xiao, 2007. "Do the right thing: But only if others do so," MPRA Paper 4609, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Andreas Diekmann & Wojtek Przepiorka & Heiko Rauhut, 2015. "Lifting the veil of ignorance: An experiment on the contagiousness of norm violations," Rationality and Society, , vol. 27(3), pages 309-333, August.
    5. Rosenbaum, Paul R., 2010. "Design Sensitivity and Efficiency in Observational Studies," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 105(490), pages 692-702.
    6. Franzen, Axel & Pointner, Sonja, 2012. "Anonymity in the dictator game revisited," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 74-81.
    7. Kliemt, Hartmut, 1986. "The veil of insignificance," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 333-344.
    8. Corman, Hope & Mocan, Naci, 2005. "Carrots, Sticks, and Broken Windows," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(1), pages 235-266, April.
    9. Heineke, J. M., 1975. "A note on modeling the criminal choice problem," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 113-116, February.
    10. Robert Cialdini, 2007. "Descriptive Social Norms as Underappreciated Sources of Social Control," Psychometrika, Springer;The Psychometric Society, vol. 72(2), pages 263-268, June.
    11. Brown, William W. & Reynolds, Morgan O., 1973. "Crime and "punishment": Risk implications," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 6(5), pages 508-514, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dur, Robert & Vollaard, Ben, 2019. "Salience of law enforcement: A field experiment," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 208-220.
    2. Vollaard, Ben, 2017. "Temporal displacement of environmental crime: Evidence from marine oil pollution," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 168-180.
    3. Keuschnigg, Marc, 2015. "Product Success in Cultural Markets: The Mediating Role of Familiarity, Peers, and Experts," MPRA Paper 63444, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Amalia Álvarez & Fabian Winter, 2018. "Normative change and culture of hate: An experiment in online environments," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2018_03, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    5. repec:kap:expeco:v:22:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s10683-018-9578-z is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Broken windows theory; disorder; field experiment; low-cost situations; norm violation; social capital;

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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