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This paper tested a new conceptual model suggesting that risk perception is a significant mediator between perceived neighbourhood disorder and a sense of (un)safety. Three components of risk perception were evaluated: perceived vulnerability, controllability and probability of occurrence of specific offences. Using photo-simulation, three places with different levels of physical and social disorder were created and 120 British students rated the level of disorder, risk and safety of each place. Results showed that risk perception partially mediated the relationship between perceived disorder and safety. Perceived vulnerability was the strongest predictor and mediator in all three places but most significantly in the degraded place. Findings indicated that the more disordered a place is perceived the more a person relies on the perception of risk to estimate how safe she or he might be. Investigating the interpretive processes that occur when people estimate risk and safety, is crucial.
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Acuña-Rivera, M., Brown, J., & Uzzell, D. (2014, in press). Risk perception as mediator in perceptions
of neighbourhood disorder and safety about victimization. Journal of Environmental Psychology. DOI:
10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.05.002.
Risk perception as mediator in perceptions of neighbourhood disorder and
safety about victimization
Marcela Acuña-Rivera, Jennifer Brown and David Uzzell
Abstract
This paper tested a new conceptual model suggesting that risk perception is a significant mediator
between perceived neighbourhood disorder and a sense of (un)safety. Three components of risk
perception were evaluated: perceived vulnerability, controllability and probability of occurrence of
specific offences. Using photo-simulation, three places with different levels of physical and social
disorder were created and 120 British students rated the level of disorder, risk and safety of each place.
Results showed that risk perception partially mediated the relationship between perceived disorder and
safety. Perceived vulnerability was the strongest predictor and mediator in all three places but most
significantly in the degraded place. Findings indicated that the more disordered a place is perceived the
more a person relies on the perception of risk to estimate how safe she or he might be. Investigating the
interpretive processes that occur when people estimate risk and safety, is crucial.
Keywords: neighbourhood disorder; risk perception; perceived vulnerability;
controllability; acceptability; safety
1. Introduction
Vandalised neighbourhoods, covered with graffiti and litter, have been said to
increase antisocial behaviour, lack social control and are precipitant to crime. This in
turn, evokes anxiety, fear and unsafe feelings amongst residents and outsiders, even
when actual crime is low (Brown, Perkins & Brown, 2004; Brunton-Smith & Sturgis,
2011; Skogan, 1990; Taylor, 1987; Wilson & Kelling, 1982). This proposition has
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been criticised for its conceptual and methodological vagueness, physical
determinism, and omission of a psychosocial dimension estimating neighbourhood
disorder and safety (Chadee, Austen & Ditton, 2007; Hale, 1996; Farrall, Grey &
Jackson, 2007; Wilcox-Roundtree & Land, 1997).
An alternative position argues that both perceived disorder and fear of crime
are co-determined by unobserved causes and social meanings associated with
environmental cues. Factors such as collective efficacy and community cohesion
(Pitner, Yu & Brown, 2012; Sampson & Raudenbush, 1999), social structure,
neighbourhood composition and prior beliefs, informed by stereotypes and stigma
(Body-Gendrot, 2009; Sampson & Raudenbush, 2004, 2005) are thought to shape
perceptions of disorder and other reactions to crime such as fear and unsafe feelings.
Some researchers have found that racial, ethnic and class composition (Sampson,
2009), and poverty (Franzini, O’Brien-Caughy, Murray-Nettles, & O’Campo, 2008)
are more powerful predictors than observed neighbourhood disorder and argue that
minority-migrant groups living in isolation and poverty, have been historically
stigmatised and associated with neighbourhood disorder and crime.
There is also research examining the reciprocal relationship whereby
perceived disorder influences fear of crime and the latter heightens public’s sensitivity
to disordered places (Jackson, Gray & Brunton-Smith, 2010). Such causal reciprocity,
we suggest, however socially constructed (cf Jackson and colleagues) needs to be
interpreted on the basis of an individual’s past experience (direct or indirect) and
cognitive and emotional processes. Whilst there have been attempts to integrate
psychological and sociological accounts to explain fear of crime (Jackson, 2008;
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Jackson, Allum & Gaskell, 2006) little by way of empirical evidence is available to
support this conceptual stance; an omission this paper seeks to redress.
Here, we focus on and extend the fear-risk paradox concept which suggests
that fear seems to be greatest amongst those who perceive themselves to be most
vulnerable, when in fact they are at least objective risk of victimisation such as
women, the elderly and racial minorities (Wyant, 2008). Researchers using this
approach pointed out that risk perception, sensitivity to risk and vulnerability are
better predictors of fear of crime. Broadly speaking, there are two research trends
attempting to account for the fear-risk paradox: one argues that a person’s
demographic and physical characteristics and their perception of the offence, the risk
and its seriousness, determine their vulnerability and sensitivity to crime (Killias,
1990; Semmens, 2004; Warr, 1984, 1987).
The second proposes that the fear-risk paradox is an emotional reaction that is
elicited by interactive dynamics between personal attributes, interpretive processes
and physical-social and environmental cues that relate to symbols of crime, the
potency of the danger and some aspects of personal harm or loss (Ferraro, 1995;
Garofalo,1981; LaGrange, Ferraro & Supancic, 1992). Garofalo, for example, focused
on psychological processes and stated that a person’s demographic attributes, beliefs,
attitudes, experience, and overall lifestyle, influence the image of crime held by a
person, which in turn affects her/his assessment of risk. Ferraro, on the other hand,
argued that the recognition of a potential danger, which he names perceived risk, is
necessary to elicit fear. For him, people react to crime in terms of both the situational
context and the personal meanings attached to each type of crime, which in turn are
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derived from the social interaction with others (including knowledge from experts and
culture) and the physical environment. Therefore, people’s perceptions of risk and
behaviour need to be investigated within the context where they occur.
Even though interactionist models represent an advance on the deterministic
approaches such as the broken windows theory (Wilson, 1975; Wilson & Kelling,
1982) and the incivilities thesis (Hunter, 1978; Skogan, 1990), the fear-risk paradox
is, itself, too speculative and has had insufficient empirical support; hence, its
explanatory power remains limited. Critiques stress that the fear-risk paradox has not
progressed due to the lack of a more psychological framework that helps to define and
explain the perceptual and interpretive processes that occur when people evaluate
places and estimate risks (Chadee, Austen & Ditton, 2007; Jackson, 2009). More
importantly, they do not consider the importance of the interaction between
psychological, social and environmental components that influence the way people
react to crime. As noted by Ferraro (1995), such interaction may adjust pre-existent
conceptions and reactions towards crime, risk and fear i.e. create a dynamic and
shifting risk assessment. Thus the addition of cognitive, affective and socio-cultural
processes that occur when people evaluate places is still required.
Building upon the conceptual premises and empirical contributions from both
‘fear of crime’ and risk analysis approaches, this paper introduces a new conceptual
model to explain the relationship between environmental variables (physical and
social disorder), risk perception and sense of safety in residential areas. Whilst
neighbourhood perceptions of physical and social disorder are necessary conditions
but in and of themselves are insufficient to explain feelings of fearfulness and
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insecurity. Rather, the perception of risks is associated with people in places and it is
this, we say, influences assessments of safety and fear of possible victimisation from
crime. This paper is organised in the following manner. First, we present the
conceptual model proposed and its main components, explaining how each one of
them contributes to perceptions of safety. We then describe the method used to test
the model and critically assess the results obtained. We conclude by discussing the
implications of our study in light of current and future research.
1.1 The model
Our model hypothesises that if a place has been appraised as having a certain
level of disorder then a second appraisal of the place is undertaken by the perceiver in
terms of the risk it may pose to them. Therefore, the relationship between perceived
disorder and sense of safety is thought to be mediated by an assessment of risk. For a
fuller explanation of the model, the following sections will describe each component
and how they are conceptualised.
The key components of the model are the individual and the contextual factors
that influence the way a person perceives places and estimates risk and safety such as
socio-demographic characteristics of the perceiver, personal dispositions and traits,
affects and experience with similar places, motives, the situation itself, and a person’s
socio-cultural background. These factors are constantly interacting within and
between the other components of the model.
Researchers investigating neighbourhood disorder and incivilities have argued
that people evaluate places in terms of, amongst other things, physical and social
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incivilities and that these have an effect on crime, fear and perceived safety (Cozens,
Hillier & Prescott, 2001; Doran & Lees, 2005; Perkins & Taylor, 1996). According to
this research, insufficient lighting, novelty, and high density, tend to make people feel
more unsafe (Painter, 1996); green foliage density and maintenance also have been
found to have an effect on fear and perceived safety (Kuo, Bacaioca & Sullivan, 1998;
Kuo & Sullivan, 2001). In a study using photo-simulation, Pitner and Astor (2008)
examined the effect that physical incivilities had in children’s perceptions and
attributions of harm in residential areas. They concluded that, as expected, physical
disorder influenced children’s perceptions of danger and safety. A major concern is
that the authors did not investigate further the effect that, for instance, experience
(direct or indirect), inferred social disorder and estimations of risk had in children’s
reasoning. In their study, participants referred to the likely harm that dangerous
people living there may inflict on them, especially in the most decayed areas. For us,
both instances are a sign of children’s inferences and estimations of risk, personal
vulnerability and coping responses to a (inferred) likely danger rather than a direct
consequence of the physical characteristics of the neighbourhoods. Also, personal
values and morals seem to have influenced children’s decision making when
presented with provocation scenarios, as the majority of children condemned
retribution and violence irrespective of the physical characteristics of the places (p.
333).We argue that it is not only the presence of incivilities but also other
psychosocial and contextual attributes that are significant to perceptions of safety.
Investigating the interpretive processes that occur when children estimate safety and
risk is crucial.
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Other scholars concur with the idea that overall appearance of places, or
likeability, evokes favourable or unfavourable reactions (e.g. nice, good, awful) and
point out that if one’s feelings towards an event (or place) are favourable then the
risks will be judged as low and the benefits high. Hence, the more liked a place, the
less disordered, risky, and unsafe it will be perceived (Alkahami & Slovic, 1994;
Nassar, 1998). Others have found that community structure, place attachment and
social trust (Brown & Perkins, 2001; Friedrichs & Blasius, 2003; Skogan, 1990;
Taylor, 1996; Walkalate, 1998), as well as neighbourhood stability, resident
appropriation, social control and a strong sense of community (Brunson, Kuo &
Sullivan, 2001; Garcia, Taylor & Brian, 2007; Jackson, 2004; Markowitz, Bellair,
Liska & Liu, 2001; Ross, Reynolds & Geis, 2000; Schwitzer, Woo-Kim & Mackin,
1999) elicit feelings of well-being and safety. The prospect or legibility of a place
seems to affect perceptions of safety too (Fisher & Nassar, 1992). Familiarity and
anticipated social support can also make people feel safer (Merry, 1981). Thus,
instead of only focusing on physical aspects of disorder and antisocial behaviour,
research investigating fear and other reactions to crime should also incorporate
individual and community factors associated with place assessment such as
likeability, prospect, familiarity, social control and sense of community.
The model presented at Figure 1 suggests that people assess the environment
looking for signs of order and of disorder. Signs of orderliness involve not only actual
but inferred attributes of places (and people) which in turn are influenced by
individual and community characteristics (e.g. knowledge, beliefs, affects, culture)
and past experience. We hold that when a person perceives a place as ordered then she
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or he feels safe. In contrast, if the place is perceived as disordered then a second
verification is needed to estimate the risk that may be associated with the disorder.
If a person estimates that there is no risk, then she or he will feel safe; but if
any risks have been calculated then the individual will feel unsafe. In evaluating the
risk, people anticipate the danger or the benefit of the consequences that effect aspects
they value (Renn, 1998), and estimate their level of vulnerability and whether they
can control the risk and its possible consequences.
Literature on the fear of crime has discussed the relevance of investigating the
role that vulnerability has in eliciting fear. In short, what this literature reports is that
Physical attributes
RISK
PERCEPTION
Feel
Unsafe
PERSON
PLACE
ASSESSMENT
Order
Disorder
Socio-
demographic
Experience
Culture
Vulnerability
Probability of occurrence
Controllability
Unacceptable risk
NO RISK
Acceptable risk Feel
Reassured
Social attributes
CONTEXT
RISK
Feel safe
Figure 1. Model proposed to account for the relationship between perceived disorder, risk
perception and perceived safety about victimisation. Because the acceptability of risks
was not tested as part o the model in this study, here it has been included as a
conceptual suggestion that yet needs to be examined.
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fear of crime depends on various factors such as socio-demographic characteristics
(e.g. age, gender, poor health, poverty), perceived risk (or the likelihood of occurrence
of a particular crime), the individual’s sensitivity to a specific risk which in turn is
influenced by the perceived seriousness of an offence and individual vulnerability
(Warr, 1987); exposure to non-legible risk, anticipation of serious consequences and
loss of control (Killias, 1990); the perception of oneself and the perception of the
offence (Semmens, 2004). Notwithstanding the conceptual contribution that this
literature has made to the field, yet risk perception and vulnerability have not been
convincingly developed and little empirical evidence to support such ideas has been
provided.
More recently and building upon previous approaches, other authors have
developed further the notion of vulnerability. Ireland (2011), for example, conducted
a study to explore conceptualizations of victimization by men, and found that threat
appraisal measured as perceived vulnerability and severity- and the effectiveness of
coping strategies were significant predictors of fear of victimisation. In two other
studies, Jackson (2009, 2011) examined the role that risk perception or vulnerability –
assessed as perceived likelihood, control and consequence- has in explaining gender
and age differences in worry. He found that whilst perceived likelihood was the
strongest predictor of levels of worry about crime, perceived control and perceived
consequence both predicted likelihood and moderated the association between
likelihood and worry. He concluded that worry about crime was a function of
perceived vulnerability (or perceived risk) and that “the greater the perceived
consequence and the lower the perceived control, the stronger the observed
association between perceived likelihood and worry about crime (2011, p.531)”.
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Finally, Custers and Van den Bulck (2013) investigated the processes mediating the
relationship between television viewing and fear of sexual violence and found that
perceived risk of becoming victimized and perceived seriousness of an offense were
positively related to fear. However, they did not support Jackson’s findings regarding
the moderating effects of perceived control and perceived seriousness on the
relationship between risk perception and fear.
A major contribution of these and other studies looking into perceived
vulnerability is that they shift from traditional views of disorder and incivility, to a
more psychological approach where interpretive processes such as estimations of
danger, probability of occurrence and likely impact, play a key role in eliciting fear or
worry about crime. However, the definition of key concepts such as vulnerability and
perceived risk is still ambiguous. In this paper we argue that perceived vulnerability
and risk are conceptually different and that the former is in fact a key component of
the perception of risk and its acceptability.
Risk implies the analysis of cause-effects relationships and the desire to
reduce undesirable outcomes by accepting or rejecting the risk. It is a
multidimensional and context dependant process that involves more than the
judgement of the likelihood of events as traditionally investigated in the fear-risk
paradox. Risk implies a subjective cognitive construction that includes social
meanings and personal inferences of hazards that may impose threats to people and
the things they value (Klinke & Renn, 2002). It involves a full range of beliefs and
feelings that people have about the nature of hazardous events, their qualitative
characteristics and benefits, and their acceptability (Pidgeon & Beattie, 1997:291).
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Research has shown that lay people have a broad and complex conception of
risk, in which they incorporate elements such as familiarity, immediacy, knowledge
about the risk, voluntariness of risk, uncertainty and dread associated to risk, as well
as its controllability, frequency and severity. Many of these characteristics are
correlated with each other and influence the relation between perceived risk,
perceived benefit, and risk acceptance (Schütz, Holger, & Wiedemann, 2000;
Rohrmann, 1998; Slovic, 1998, 1987). Whether final estimations and judgements are
actually correct is not as important to people as the potential i.e. drawing the
conclusion that they can manage the event and that nothing will harm them.
Perceptions of vulnerability to encounter potentially threatening events and the
controllability of risks (or the estimates of one’s ability to avoid or mitigate risks and
their consequences) are also said to influence the perception of risk and safety.
Weinstein (1989) notes that on the one hand, those who think that are more vulnerable
or susceptible of facing risks and their consequences may take costly and unnecessary
protective behaviours, even when risk of victimisation is low. On the other hand,
people who perceive themselves to be at lower risk of injury also believe that they are
better able to control risks than other people who are exposed to same risks. Weyman
and Kelly (1999) also point out that lack of self-efficacy and perceptions of
uncontrollability lead people to feel more vulnerable, anxious, and unsafe. Hough
(1995) found that perceived physical vulnerability significantly predicted both
perceptions of safety while alone at night and worries about being mugged.
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As discussed above, estimating the likelihood of hazards’ and their frequency
of occurrence are also key factors to explain the perception of risk and safety. It
appears that more frequent and common events are underestimated and the less
frequent overestimated. Also, the less frequent an event is perceived, and the more
confident people feel, the less vulnerable they think they are, and the more control
over the hazard and the outcomes they think they have (Weinstein, 1989; Uzzell &
Brown, 2007). Therefore, people feel at less risk of suffering any sort of harm and,
consequently, more safe.
Our model also suggests the influence of a fourth factor which may attenuate
or amplify the perception of risk and safety, and that is the acceptability of the risk.
Once a certain level of risk has been perceived the next step is to determine how
acceptable the risk might be. If the risk is judged to be acceptable then people may
feel reassured1; if not they will feel unsafe and will engage in a flight or fight
response. The acceptability of the risk is based upon several features: the individual
psychology of the person, the hazard, the situation, the expected consequences, and
the options available (Fischhoff, Lichtenstein, Slovic, Derby & Keeny, 1981). How
voluntary and controllable the risk is, the salience of the situation, one’s personal
experience, the perceived costs-benefits of each option available and the risk itself,
are amongst the most important factors that affect decisions of accepting risks (Otway
& Winterfeldt, 1982). Research findings have also shown that the acceptable level of
risk depends on voluntariness and perceived benefits (Barnett & Breakwell, 2001). It
seems that the more voluntary and beneficial the risk the more acceptable it is such as
the choice to drive a car (Slovic, 1987; Slovic & Weber, 2002).
1 The extent a person may feel reassured as a result of accepting risks is rather a conceptual suggestion that also
needs to be tested.
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In addition to psychosocial and contextual factors, risk assessment and risk
perception are influenced by factors attributable to the risk itself. Research has
demonstrated that there are a number of qualitative characteristics of the risk that can
facilitate or inhibit risk perception such as familiarity, immediacy, voluntariness,
probability and frequency of occurrence, duration, severity of the consequence,
recurrence, controllability, population at risk, time between exposure to risk and
consequences, origin (man made vs nature), level of complexity (e.g. driving vs
climate change), and location (local – global) (Cutter, 1993; Hohenemser, Kates &
Slovic, 1983; Pidgeon & Beattie, 1997; Slovic, 1987).
Many of these qualitative characteristics are correlated with each other and
influence the relation between perceived risk, perceived benefit, and risk acceptance
(Schütz et al, 2000; Slovic, 1992). For instance, research results have shown that
people may accept risks and the possibility of being harmed if it serves other goals,
but will reject even the slight chance of harm if they think the risk has been imposed
on them or is contradictory to their beliefs and values (Fischhoff, 1985).
Summarising, the conceptual model described above proposes a series of
relationships between psycho-social, environmental and contextual factors that allow
a more coherent and conceptually rich account of perceptions of safety and potential
victimisation in places. In short, the model proposes that if a place has been perceived
as having with a certain level of disorder then a second appraisal of the place is done
in terms of the risk it may pose to the person. We argue that perceiving disorder is not
a sufficient condition to make people feel unsafe; rather, it is the perception of the risk
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which influences the perception of safety. How safe or unsafe one might feel depends
on this second assessment and a person’s own socio-demographic, psychological
(motives, affects, experience), and socio-cultural characteristics (values, culture,
social meanings).
The study presented in this paper examines the mediating role of risk
perception and explores the influence that the acceptability of risks has in decision
making.
2. Method
2.1 Sampling strategy and participant details
A sample of 120 university students was used for the analysis (Table 1). Only
British participants were included in the sample because they had to evaluate British
residential areas, and cultural differences were not being investigated. Using mailing
lists, students from different subject areas were sent an email asking for their
participation. The aim and length of the study and inclusion criteria were explained in
the email. Once participants replied, a suitable day and time was arranged for them to
complete the questionnaire. Posters advertising the study were also posted around the
university in order to recruit more participants.
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Table 1. Demographic data.
DEMOGRAPHIC
GROUPS
% (n)
Age
18 21
43.3 (52)
22 25
35.1 (42)
26 - 30
21.6 (26)
Gender
Female
56.7 (68)
Male
43.3 (52)
Area of
study
Psychology
34.2 (41)
Engineering/Physics/Maths
26.7 (32)
Biomedics
17.5 (21)
Culture and Arts
10.8 (13)
Other
10.8 (13)
Level of
studies
Undergraduate
61.7 (74)
Masters
13.3 (16)
PhD
25 (30)
Offence
experience
Yes
% (n)
No
% (n)
Physical/verbal attack
47.5 (57)
52.5 (63)
Mugged
6.7 (8)
93.3 (112)
Robbed
8.3 (10)
91.7 (110)
Burgled
14.2 (17)
85.8 (103)
Relatives exp victim*
81.7 (98)
18.3 (22)
* Participants also reported if they had heard about their relatives
experiencing any of the above offences.
2.2 Materials
The measures and materials discussed here built upon literature reviewed and
two mixed-methods studies we conducted prior to our final study (unpublished).
Materials used included three panoramic photographs of residential neighbourhoods
depicting different levels of deprivation and wealth, and an open-ended questionnaire
purposely devised for this study.
2.2.1 The three places with different levels of disorder
Using the English Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD; Communities and
Local Government, 2007)2 a deprived place - Petén Street3 - was identified as more
2 The IMD (2007) classifies small geographical areas (lower super output areas) in England in terms of their level of
deprivation.
3 This is a fictitious name.
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convenient for this study because digital manipulations on the computer could be
more easily undertaken than using a wealthier street. Petén Street is located in the
second most deprived ward in the Borough and within the top 20% most deprived
wards in England where crime is rather high.
A panoramic view of Petén Street as Is with no people, was taken in the
daytime (Photograph 1). By manipulating its physical features, two variations of the
place using a computer design programme were created: Petén Street Degraded
(Photograph 2) contained more signs of incivilities and dilapidation, more cars,
dirtiness, not well maintained vegetation, broken windows and graffiti; and, Petén
Street Improved (Photograph 3) looked better maintained, tidier, cleaner, with fewer
cars, newer windows and well-shaped greenery. The aim of such alterations was to
explore how much participants’ perceptions of disorder, risk and safety, changed
depending on the overall physical disorder of the same place.
The three photographs were printed in colour and were 167 cms width x 20
cms height in size. Three sets of photographs (with three photos each) were prepared
as three participants completed the questionnaires at the same time. The final
photographs presented to participants are shown below.
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PHOTOGRAPH 1. PETÉN STREET DEGRADED.
The actual place was modified to create a more degraded and less attractive place were
signs of decay and abandonment were evident. It included more cars and litter bins, and a
police sign was drawn in the red car in front of the picture, which also had a broken window
and a missing tyire. Graffiti, dirt and cracks on the walls were perceptible; broken windows
and a skip were added on the right side to create a more rundown appearance. Unkempt
vegetation was also included.
PHOTOGRAPH 2. PETÉN STREET AS IS. This photograph shows the place as it was in reality.
P
HOTOGRAPH
3.
P
ETÉN
S
TREET
I
MPROVED
The actual place was manipulated to create a beautified and more attractive place. Most of
the cars were removed from the photo, several windows were replaced by newer ones and
litter and dirt were removed when possible. Well kept and shaped vegetation was added in
order to create a more green, private and well cared place.
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2.2.2 The questionnaire
A questionnaire measuring perceived disorder, risk perception and perceived
safety about victimisation, was devised. Neighbourhood disorder included five sub-
scales: physical and social incivilities, prospect, deprivation, and community
involvement. Given risk perception is defined as a complex and multifactorial
process, in this study it was measured with three subscales: perceived probability of
occurrence of specific offences, perceived personal vulnerability and perceived
control over events and their consequences. Therefore, “risk perception or perceived
risk” are the terms we use to encompass these three components. A vignette
measuring acceptability of risks and three additional sub-scales were included:
similarity, likeability, and perceived safety. Appendix A (see end of paper) shows
items and dimensions measured by the questionnaire and its associated Cronbach’s
alpha.
The questionnaire contained two main sections. Section I presented an open-
ended question that explored participants’ first thoughts about the place depicted in
the photograph. Results from this part of the questionnaire have been presented
elsewhere (Acuña-Rivera, Uzzell & Brown, 2011) so will not be discussed in this
paper. Section II of the questionnaire examined a range of dimensions relevant to
neighbourhood disorder, likeability of the place and perceived similarity. Participants
had to put the mark (out from 10) that best expressed their opinion, with 1 meaning
“not at all”, and 10 “very much”.
Acknowledging the significant role that the acceptability of risks has in
perceptions of safety, a vignette aimed to investigate when, how and why participants
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accept risks was also included. However this section was not tested as part of the
model since this would incorporate additional relationships that were not investigated
in this study. The hypothetical scenario made participants think about a significant
event but in a probable dangerous situation in the evening. Options offered involve a
benefit but also a cost. The situation and the options included were:
Please imagine you have been asked to go for dinner at a close friend’s house
(think of an actual very close friend of yours) because you have not seen each other
for a long time and you do not know his/her new place. Your friend’s house is at the
end of the street in the photo. You have the address but do not know where the house
is. You have also been told that the house is close to a dangerous neighbourhood.
Looking at the place in the photograph and considering that you are going by
yourself, please circle the option that best describes what you would actually do in
these circumstances. Remember that there are no correct or wrong answers, it is
your views that count.
a. Take a bus because you were told that it is very cheap and that it will
leave you near your friend’s house (5 minutes walk away).
b. Go by car although you cannot park in front of your friend’s place
because it is residential use only. However, there is a pay and display car park
nearby (10 minutes walk away).
c. Take a taxi that would take you right to your friend’s place and cost
about £15.
d. Suggest to your friend that you have dinner somewhere else explaining
that you do not know the place where she/he lives.
e. Decide to catch up on the phone instead.
Participants could accept the risk by either saving money or time although
they could also reject the risk and decide not to go there and meet somewhere else or
speak on the phone instead. Once participants chose an option, they were asked to
briefly explain why they made that decision as a way to identify criteria used.
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Participants were asked to rate on a 7-point Likert scale with 1 denoting
“never” and 7 “always”, how likely certain threats (e.g., verbal attacks, rowdy teens,
mugging) would occur in the places evaluated. Participants provided their socio-
demographic details in a separate slip when they had completed the questionnaires.
Literature in the field has revealed that victimisation experience influences the
way people react to crime and signs associated to it although results seem
contradictory (Box, Hale, & Andrews, 1988, Brown & Perkins, 2001; Cates, Dian &
Schnepf, 2003). In order to investigate this, participants were also asked about their
experience with certain offences associated with residential areas.
3. Procedure
Three participants at a time completed the questionnaire in a room specifically
arranged for that purpose. Each one of them had their own desk with three copies of
the questionnaire, a separate slip for their general details and one of the three
photographs they were going to evaluate. Although the aim of the study and
instructions were explained to participants at the same time, each one of them
completed the questionnaire on their own. Participants were informed that their
personal data and answers would be kept anonymous and confidential and processed
for research purposes only, and that they may withdraw from the study should they
want to. In addition, full results were also available for those interested.
Participants also had in front of them the photograph they were evaluating and
were allowed to see it as many times as needed. Once they completed the
questionnaire for the first photograph, the researcher collected it and gave them the
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second photo and then the third one. They completed one questionnaire for each
photo. The length of the session ranged from 45 minutes to one hour. Although
participants evaluated the three photographs, its order of presentation was
counterbalanced in order to avoid always having the same photo evaluated in first,
second or third place. This procedure is explained in the next section.
4. Results
4.1 Dimension construction
Because of their low correlation with other items (r <.30), four items were
deleted from the questionnaire. The internal consistency of all subscales and for the
three places evaluated was good (Cronbach’s alpha > .70; p<.05), except for prospect
which was rather moderate (Cronbach's alpha = .60; p<.05). The three items related to
perceived controllability were included in the analysis separately, as the internal
consistency of the subscale was poor (Cronbach’s alpha < .50; p<.05).
4.2 Three places with different levels of disorder, risk and safety
Before exploring the role that the dimensions measured has in perceived risk
and safety, it was necessary to determine whether the modifications made to the real
place worked in terms of creating three places with different levels of disorder, risk
and safety. A series of one-way repeated measures ANOVAs were performed to
identify significant differences in participants’ perceptions of the three places
evaluated. Pairwise comparisons using Games-Howell Post hoc tests were performed
in order to determine where the significant differences occurred (Field, 2009).
Bonferroni correction was also applied to the p<.05 since multiple significance tests
were carried out.
22
Results showed that the three places created were perceived with significantly
different levels of disorder, safety and risk (p<.001) where Petén Street Degraded
always received the least favourable evaluation and Petén Street Improved the best.
Even though Petén Street as Is was perceived as physically disordered and somewhat
deprived, it was not considered as socially disordered or unsafe as the degraded place
(Table 2).
Table 2. Means and standard deviations for each place and for each dimension measured (significant
differences between the three places were found at p<.001)
PLACE
DIMENSION
DEGRADED
m(std)
as IS
m (std)
IMPROVED
m(std)
Response scale
Physical Order
4.0 (1.2)
5.8 (1.4)
7.6 (1.1)
1= Not at all
10= Very much
Social Order
3.9 (1.1)
5.8 (1.4)
7.1 (1.2)
Similar to me
3.1 (1.0)
4.9 (1.4)
6.2 (1.3)
Like it
2.1 (0.8)
4.7 (1.7)
6.7 (1.6)
Probability of
occurrence
5.0 (0.6) 3.5 (0.9) 2.5 (0.7) 1= Never
7= Always
Not vulnerable*
3.5 (1.0)
4.7 (0.9)
5.2 (0.9)
Able to handle
problems*
3.6 (1.4) 4.5 (1.3) 4.8 (1.4)
Safety
2.7 (0.9)
4.5 (1.0)
5.4 (0.9)
* Items were reversed for comparison purposes
It is worth mentioning that no significant differences by gender, age and
victimisation experience were found.
4.3 Exploring the acceptability of risks
Acceptability of the risk is one of the key elements influencing risk perception
and safety. It was measured through a vignette that was presented to participants in
order to evaluate their acceptance of a likely dangerous situation for each of the places
assessed (see section 2.2.2). After reading the fragment, participants were asked to
23
rate how significant meeting their friend and getting to their place was for them.
Findings showed that despite meeting their friend is important to participants
irrespectively of the place (F(2,207)= 6.465; p<.01), getting to their friend’s house is
more important in Petén Street as Is and Petén Street Improved, than in Petén Street
Degraded (F(2,207)= 6.465; p<.01).
Results also showed a significant association between the type of place and the
option chosen to get there (X2(6)=54.07, p<.001). It seems that “going by bus and
walking for 5 minutes”, was the most preferred option, although there were more
people willing to do that in Petén Street as Is (63%) and Petén Street Improved
(61%), than in Petén Street Degraded (41%). See Table 3.
Broadly speaking, around 70% of the participants in the degraded place and
90% in the other two places accepted the risk of visiting their friend, although the
preferred option to get there was dependant on the type of place and whether they
were women or men. Interestingly, about 25% of the sample did not accept the risk
and reported that having dinner somewhere else or even speaking on the phone with
Table 3. Option chosen by participants to get to their friend’s new place.
Place
Degraded*
as It Is*
Improved
Option
T % (n) Fem Male T % (n) Fem Male T % (n) Fem Male
By bus and 5 min walk
41 (49)
26
23
63(75)
41
34
61 (73)
40
33
By own car and 10 min
walk 10 (12) 3 9 21(25) 9 16 28 (34) 17 17
By taxi (£15)
26 (31)
18
13
9(11)
9
2
4(5)
3
2
Have dinner somewhere
else
22 (26) 19 7 7(9) 9 --- 7 (8) 8 ---
Catch up on the phone 2(2) 2 --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
Total
120
68
52
120
68
52
120
68
52
* Significant differences by gender were found in Petén Street Degraded and Petén Street as Is at p<.05.
24
their friend was best for them, especially in the degraded place (against 7% of
participants who chose these options in the other two places).
The reasons given by 50% of the sample to explain why they chose a specific
option were content analysed, and results showed that participants took into
consideration three main reasons to accept the risk: time to get to their friend’s place
(short time walk), cost (cheapest option), and level of perceived safety in the place.
In addition, a significant association between option chosen and gender was
found in the degraded (X2(4)=9.565, p<.05) and the actual places (X2(3)=14.187,
p<.01. That is, women were more likely than men, to go by bus or by taxi, or even
would have dinner somewhere else; whereas men were more likely to go by car. No
significant association between option chosen and gender was found for the improved
place.
4.4 Testing the mediating role of risk perception
To test for the potential mediating role of risk perception, steps suggested by
Baron and Keney (1986) and Sobel and Aroian (Fife-Shaw, 2007) were followed. A
series of standard multiple regression analyses were performed to test that:
1) perceived (dis)order (X) significantly predicts risk perception (M);
2) perceived (dis)order significantly predicts perceived safety (Y); and,
3) perceived risk significantly predicts perceived safety after controlling for
perceived (dis)order. A significant reduction of the effect of (dis)order on
safety when introducing risk perception, is expected (See Figure 2).
25
It is acknowledged that full mediation (when path c is reduced to zero) is rare
in psychological research, as most psychological processes have multiple mediating
factors. Therefore, it is more realistic to look for mediators that significantly decrease
path c, that is, partial mediation. This will demonstrate that indeed the mediator is
powerful (Baron & Kenney, 1986; Preacher & Hayes, 2004).
Once the conditions depicted in Figure 2 are met, it is also necessary to look at
whether the indirect effect of the IV on the DV (via the mediator (M) is significantly
different from zero (p<.05), which is what the Sobel and Aroian test does. Regression
coefficients for paths a and b (Figure 2) and their standard error were inputted into the
Sobel and Aroian Test Calculator (Fife-Schaw, 2007). The resulting Z scores must be
+ 1.96 to be significant at p<.05. If significant, the mediation has been achieved.
It was decided that for testing the mediating role of risk perception, physical
and social disorder should be entered as one variable. A new variable called
Path c
Path b Path a
Risk perception (M)
(dis)Order
(IV) Safety
(DV)
Note: Risk perception is measured by means of perceived vulnerability,
frequency of occurrence and the ability to handle problems.
Figure 2. Model depicting the mediating process between risk
perception (M), perceived disorder (IV) and
perceived safety (DV).
26
“disorder” was computed for each place evaluated, and it included all items from
physical and social disorder and community involvement as the latter has been found
to be a key variable in people’s perceptions of neighbourhood disorder (Skogan,
1990; Fisher, Sonn, & Bishop, 2002). Internal consistency of the three new variables
(one for each place assessed) was tested using Cronbach’s alpha (p<0.05), and
reliability coefficients proved to be satisfactory for all of them (Cronbach’s alpha=.78
in the degraded place; Cronbach’s alpha=.83 in the place as Is; and, Cronbach’s
alpha=.82 in the improved place).
Perceived vulnerability, probability and ability to handle problems, were
included in the analysis as three different variables, in order to explore the role that
each one of them have in the disorder-safety relationship. The other items from the
controllability dimension were not considered in the analysis as they did not predict
safety. Findings for each place will be analysed first, including results from both the
multiple regressions and the Sobel and Aroian tests, and then a concluding summary
will be presented.
4.4.1 Petén Street Degraded
Results from Table 4 show that the three conditions to test for mediation in the
degraded place were met (Table 4 can be found at the end of this paper). First,
perceived disorder significantly predicted safety (Adjusted R2=.354; F(1,98)=55.270;
p=.000), vulnerability (Adjusted R2=.306; F(1,102)=46.486; p=.000), probability of
occurrence (Adjusted R2=.397; F(1,96)=64.945; p=.000), and the ability to handle
problems (Adjusted R2=.056; F(1,104)=7.186; p=.00). Nonetheless, it is worth noting
that the adjusted regression coefficient for the ability to handle problems despite
27
significant was rather low as only five percent of the variation in this ability was
explained by perceived disorder.
Second, vulnerability (Adjusted R2=.484; F(1,108)=103.335; p=.000),
probability of occurrence (Adjusted R2=.338; F(1,101)=53.147; p=.000) and the
ability to handle problems (Adjusted R2=.111; F(1,110)=14.867; p=.000) all three
significantly accounted for perceived safety.
Third, perceived vulnerability, probability and handle problems together
significantly accounted for 60% of the variation in perceived safety (Adjusted
R2=.593; F(4,93)=36.309; p=.000), being vulnerability the strongest predictor.
Interestingly, the effect of perceived disorder is no longer significant when the
mediators were included, although it was not equal to zero. By looking at the
regression coefficients (B) and the semi-partial correlations (part) for perceived
disorder (Table 4), it can be observed that the effect from disorder on safety is
reduced when the mediators are included. That is, B decreases from .609 to .149, and
the semi-partial correlations from .601 to .104. Therefore, a partial mediation of
vulnerability, probability and the ability to handle problems, was found.
Regression coefficients for paths a and b and their standard errors were
inputted into the Sobel and Aroian Test Calculator and results confirmed that risk
perception by means of their indicators partially mediates the relationship between
disorder and safety in Petén Street Degraded (Table 5).
28
Table 5. Sobel and Aroian z scores for testing the
mediating role of risk perception in the three
places evaluated.
Petén Street Degraded
Variable Sobel Aroian
Vulnerability 4.12 4.10
Probability -2.53 -2.50
Handle problems
2.79 2.78
Petén Street as Is
Disorder 2.77 2.75
Vulnerability 3.04 3.02
Probability -2.27 -2.25
Handle problems
2.26 2.25
Petén Street Improved
Disorder 2.30 2.28
Vulnerability
3.91 3.88
Z score >+1.96 to be significant at p>.05
4.4.2 Petén Street as Is
Results from Table 6 show that the three conditions to test for mediation in the
actual place were met too (Table 6 can be found at the end of this paper). First,
perceived disorder significantly predicted safety (Adjusted R2=.479; F(1,98)=92.035;
p=.000), vulnerability (Adjusted R2=.383; F(1,102)=64.974; p=.000), probability of
occurrence (Adjusted R2=.463; F(1,96)=84.738; p=.000), and the ability to handle
problems (Adjusted R2=.091; F(1,96)=11.495; p=.001). Once again, perceived
disorder significantly accounts for only nine percent of the variation in the ability to
handle problems. Second, perceived vulnerability, probability and handle problems
significantly account for perceived safety (Adjusted R2=.420; F(1,108)=79.807,
p=.000; Adjusted R2=.312; F(1,101)=47.262, p=.000; and, Adjusted R2=.182;
F(1,10)=25.711; p=.000, respectively). Third, all variables together predicted around
29
59% of the variation in perceived safety, being vulnerability the strongest predictor
(Adjusted R2=.587; F(4,93)=35.534, p=.000). In this case, the effect of perceived
disorder on perceived safety was significant.
By looking at the regression coefficients (B) and the semi-partial correlations
(part) for perceived disorder, it can be observed that the effect from disorder on safety
was reduced when the mediators were included. That is, B decreased from .651 to
.292, and the semi-partial correlations from .696 to .192. Therefore, a partial
mediation of vulnerability, probability and the ability to handle problems was again
found. Regression coefficients and their standard errors were inputted into the Sobel
and Aroian Test Calculator and results showed that the absolute values for perceived
disorder, vulnerability, danger and the ability to handle problems, are significant. This
result confirmed that risk perception partially mediated the relationship between
disorder and safety in Petén Street as Is (Table 5).
4.4.3 Petén Street Improved
Results from Table 7 (this table can be found at the end of this paper)
demonstrate that perceived order significantly predicted safety (Adjusted R2=.325;
F(1,98)=48.661; p=.000), vulnerability (Adjusted R2=.285; F(1,102)=42.048; p=.000),
probability of occurrence (Adjusted R2=.486; F(1,96)=92.628; p=.000), and the
ability to handle problems (Adjusted R2=.052; F(1,104)=6.815; p=.010); and that
vulnerability, danger and handle problems also predicted safety (Adjusted R2=.436;
F(1,108)=85.332, p=.000; Adjusted R2=.238; F(1,101)=32.909, p=.000; and, Adjusted
R2=.086; F(1,110)=11.476; p=.001 respectively). Nevertheless, only perceived order
and vulnerability significantly accounted for 50% of the variation in perceived safety
30
(Adjusted R2=.492; F(4,93)=24.449, p=.000), as probability of occurrence and handle
problems were no longer significant.
By looking at the regression coefficients (B) and the semi-partial correlations
for perceived disorder, it can be said that the effect of order on safety was decreased
when the mediators were included. That is, B decreased from .518 to .239, and the
semi-partial correlations from .576 to .178. Therefore, a partial mediation of
vulnerability was achieved.
Regression coefficients and their standard errors were inputted into the Sobel
and Aroian Test Calculator and results show that indeed absolute values for perceived
disorder and vulnerability were significant. This result confirms that vulnerability
partially mediates the relationship between order and safety in Petén Street Improved
(Table 5).
To summarise, the results confirm that risk perception partially mediates the
relationship between perceived disorder and safety since the effect of disorder on
safety became small when the variables associated with perceived risk were included,
especially in the degraded place where it was no longer significant. In all places
evaluated, perceived vulnerability was the strongest predictor and mediator. This
suggests that when a place has been perceived with a certain level of physical and
social disorder then risk perception helps people to determine how safe or unsafe they
might be.
31
5. Discussion
Given the limitations of current formulations to define adequately a
conceptual framework to account for perceptual and interpretive processes that occur
when people assess their safety in places, this paper introduces a new conceptual
approach to the investigation of risk perception and its effect on perceived safety
about crime. Our model proposes that evaluating the level of safety involves two
types of assessments, one to determine the level of physical and social disorder and a
second to estimate the possibility of facing risks and their consequences.
To test our assumption, three places with different levels of physical and
social disorder were created. Results showed that modifications performed to the real
place in order to create two versions of the place with discernibly different levels of
deprivation, worked. The degraded place was perceived as the most unsafe and risky,
and was at the same time the most physically and socially disordered neighbourhood.
The other two places were evaluated as socially ordered, rather safe and with low risk,
even when the actual place was perceived as physically disordered and somewhat
deprived. However, the improved place always received the most favourable
assessment. It seems to be that the level of perceived social disorder made the
difference between the unsafe and safe places. What this is telling us is that it is not
the physical environment per se but the psychosocial attributions and inferences about
people and places which inform us about how safe we might be; it is inferences about
people and their behaviour that matter the most.
When testing the model, findings demonstrated that indeed risk perception
partially mediated the relationship between perceived disorder and safety, since the
effect of the former on the latter became small when the three components of risk
32
perception were included, especially in the degraded place where it was no longer
significant. That is, the more disordered a place is perceived the more a person relies
on the perception of risk to estimate how safe she or he might be in it. People not
only rely upon observed or inferred attributes of places and hazards to estimate the
level of safety but on other more individual factors such as the likelihood of
occurrence of certain offences, how vulnerable to suffering any type of harm one
might be, and how controllable hazards and consequences are. In all cases, perceived
vulnerability (or the subjective evaluation of an individual’s susceptibility when
facing threatening events that may harm them or the things they value) was the
strongest predictor and mediator. These findings represent an important conceptual
and empirical contribution to the field.
Even though our findings seem to go in a similar direction to recent studies
investigating vulnerability and/or risk perception and their effect on fear or worry
about crime, key differences are identified. For instance, in some of these studies,
perceived vulnerability and risk perception are used as synonyms and are defined as
the perceived likelihood of victimisation, personal control over the threat and
anticipated consequences (Custers & Van den Bulck, 2013; Jackson, 2009, 2011). In
this paper, a clear distinction between perceived vulnerability and perceived risk has
been made, situating vulnerability as a necessary condition for risk perception. From
this point o view, risk perception is a multidimensional and context dependant
concept which is defined as the way people judge and evaluate the hazards they are or
might be exposed to and it includes beliefs, attitudes, judgements and feelings, as well
as the wider cultural and social dispositions people adopt towards threats to
themselves or the things they value (Pidgeon, 1998: 5). Vulnerability, on the other
33
hand, is defined as people’s perceived susceptibility of encountering threatening
events or situations that may harm them or the things they value (Weyman & Kelly,
1999). Overall, it seems that perceived vulnerability is a good predictor of fear or
perceived safety about crime.
Another key difference with previous studies is that we considered a less
investigated factor that may amplify or attenuate people’s perception of risk and
safety: the acceptability of risk. Although this was not specifically tested as part of the
model, responses to this part of the study yielded significant findings. The perceived
levels of disorder, risk and (un)safety did not affect the participants’ main goal
(visiting their friend) but the way to get there. It seems that despite recognising the
risk(s) associated with the place and event, participants accepted the likely risk and
found ways of dealing with it. That is, the acceptability of the risk triggered
precautionary behaviours (Van der Plight, 1998) that, according to the participants,
helped them to attain their goal and face the likely risk. Participants weighted the
situation in terms of time spent and cost of each option provided, and even re-
considered the “safeness” of the place. Option chosen was the most convenient for
them either because they saved money or time, or because they thought neither
themselves nor their cars were at risk. It seems that participants adjusted their pre-
existing conceptions towards their personal risk and safety and accepted the risk
because achieving their goal was more important. The salience and the goal of the
situation, the affects involved, the perceived costs and benefits, and the voluntariness
of the risk influenced their decision making and future behaviour. This is consistent
with other research findings (Otway & Winterfeldt, 1982; Slovic, Finucane, Peters &
McGregor, 2004).
34
Most research in the field of risk perception has demonstrated that risks that
are voluntary undertaken are more likely to be accepted; our results confirmed this.
Fischhoff (1985) argues that people may accept risks and the possibility of being
harmed if it serves other significant goals, but will reject any possibility of harm if
they think the risk has been imposed on them or is contradictory to their beliefs and
values. Thus, research investigating the fear of crime and why some groups seem to
be more fearful than others should also incorporate attitudes, beliefs and values
towards specific offences (and not crime in general) and whether these are perceived
as imposed risks that should be controlled by somebody else. Identifying which
offences are more accepted (or tolerated) than others and under what circumstances
would be significant too.
Another key finding is that regarding the effect that socio-demographic
characteristics have in perceived disorder, risk and safety. Surprisingly, no significant
differences by gender, age and victimisation experience were found in terms of
perceptions of disorder, risk and safety which contradicts previous research
(Brantingham & Brantingham, 1995; Franzini et al, 2008; Friederichs & Blasius,
2003; Kuo & Sullivan, 2001; Miceli, Rocato & Rosato, 2004; Wilson & Kelling,
1982). However, significant differences regarding the acceptability of risks were
found. The majority of the participants accepted the risk anticipated in each
neighbourhood although the preferred option to get to each place was dependant on
the type of area and whether they were women or men. This again could be related
with the salience of the situation, its affective connotation, and the perceived benefits
and costs.
35
It seems plausible to conclude that estimating personal safety implies more
than assessing how physically and socially disordered a place is. Modifying the
physical environment is not sufficient to reduce fear and unsafe feelings, rather
understanding how people perceive and accept risks will prove more effective to
explain perceptions of safety about victimisation. Notwithstanding the conceptual and
empirical formulations presented in this paper represent a theoretical improvement, a
number of questions yet remain unanswered.
More research refining the relationships suggested and testing competing
models would be significant. It would also be important to investigate further other
determinants of risk and its acceptability such as perceived seriousness of the risk and
its consequences, immediacy of the consequences, familiarity, affect, social structure
and trust. Future work should be more process oriented and needs to investigate how
perceptions and interpretations of the environment and safety are construed and
adjusted according to personal, social and contextual factors. It will be important to
incorporate other psychosocial variables that have proved relevant to explain
residential satisfaction and sense of community, such as place attachment, social
cohesion, identity and trust. Incorporating people’s understandings and
conceptualisations of victimisation and considering contextualists formulations to
investigate the role that social and institutional processes have in amplifying or
attenuating public’s views is also needed (Innes & Jones, 2006; Thompson & Dean,
1996).
Investigating more effectively the impact that emotional and affective
reactions have in people’s responses to crime is crucial too. Slovic and Peters (2006)
36
support the idea that retrieving affective impressions serve as an early warning system
that involves an intuitive, fast, and mostly automatic reaction to danger. It would be
important to investigate under what circumstances people rely on either affective
reactions or rational thinking, or whether a person’s response rather reflects the action
of both systems running in parallel (Slovic et al, 2004) and interacting with each other
at some point in the process. In addition, investigating the type of feelings that are
triggered or associated with specific offences and situations and how this affects
people’s perception of risk and benefit may yield interesting results. Finucane,
Alhakami, Slovic, and Johnson (2000) argue that people judge risks not only by what
they think but also by how they feel about it. If their feelings toward an event or
situation are favourable then the perceived risk will be low and the benefit high; if
their feelings are unfavourable then people will perceive high risk and low benefit.
Researchers have relied much on the “availability heuristic” (Tversky &
Kahneman, 1974, 1982) or the participant’s cognitive ability to recall and imagine
events, and have focused more on the anticipation of fear which is qualitatively
different from experiencing actual fear (Garofalo, 1981). From a psychological point
of view, fear is an emotional reaction to events appraised as threatening and it results
from the interaction between biological, psycho-social and environmental factors
occurring under specific circumstances (Power & Dalgleish, 1997).
Further, the same event may produce anger in one person (which may
attenuate risk) and fear in another (which may amplify risk), or even no emotional
reaction at all; it will depend on the individual, the circumstances and cognitions
surrounding the event (Christianson, 1992). Incorporating the influence of affective
reactions and its interaction with cognitive interpretations of events yet represents a
37
significant challenge not only for research on fear of crime, but for risk perception
research.
As has been largely discussed, some priority should also be given to
conducting multidisciplinary research to achieve conceptual and operational
consensus and clarity in the definition of key terms such as disorder, worry, concern,
fear, vulnerability, risk and safety. Even though there is a certain agreement on the
physical and social attributes that constitute what has been called disorder and
incivilities, it is yet necessary to investigate how many and which incivilities are more
associated with unsafe feelings and fear. It is also necessary to investigate the
differential effect that the interaction between incivilities has in perceptions of places.
Improving and standardising, to a certain extent, the concepts and methodologies used
would be important if more conclusive and consistent findings are to be achieved.
Finally, findings from this study demonstrated that the relationship between
disorder, risk and safety is not as simple as one can expect and that it is time for
scientists, designers and policy makers to move away from narrow and deterministic
views. How safe is safe enough is difficult to explain since this involves factors
related to the individual, the hazard, the consequences, and the context. Thus,
identifying acceptable or standard levels of order and risk to create safer environments
depends on to whom it might be acceptable, when, and under what circumstances
(Pidgeon, Hood, Jones, Turner, & Gibson, 1992: 92). Investigating all these factors
will prove beneficial to understand at least in part why some communities seem to be
more disorder and risk tolerant and why particular people feel more unsafe than
others.
38
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Appendix A. Dimensions to measure perceived physical and social disorder, risk and safety.
DIMENSION
SUBSCALE
ITEMS
Petén
Degraded
Cronbach’s
alpha
Petén
as Is
Cronbach’s
alpha
Petén
Improved
Cronbach’s
alpha
PERCEIVED
PHYSICAL
DISORDER
Maintenance
The place is tidy
The place is dirty
The place is noisy
The place is well cared for
The place is run-down
The place needs to be repaired
It is a green looking place
0.70 0.84 0.81
Prospect The place has good visibility
The place has clear pathways
I can clearly see what happens on the street
The place has traffic problems
0.65 0.72 0.56
PERCEIVED
SOCIAL
DISORDER
Deprivation The place is affluent
People might be poor
People might find life difficult
People might be living under crowded
conditions
0.66 0.84 0.77
Community
involvement
People might be friendly
People might be supportive
People like to be close to their neighbours
People take part in community life
People enjoy walking in the neighbourhood
People might be proud of living there
People look after their neighbourhood
People might be uninterested in what
happens there
0.81 0.89 0.87
Incivilities
People might be harmful to others
People might be drug takers or alcoholic
People might be noisy neighbours
People might be trouble makers
0.73 0.89 0.80
Similarity People might be unpredictable
People might be similar to me
People share my moral values
It makes me feel at home
People might be reliable
People trust in each other
0.78 0.86 0.84
Likeability The place is nice
The place is attractive
The place has pleasant residential roads
The place is desirable
0.78 0.93 0.92
RISK
PERCEPTION
Perceived
Vulnerability
Think nothing bad will happen to you
Think people would help you if you needed it
Think you might be attacked by a stranger
Think you would be in trouble if you get lost
0.72 0.72 0.66
Perceived
Control
Ask people for help if you think you are in
trouble
Feel able to handle any unexpected problem
(photo 3 only and instead of help3:
Avoid encounters with people around the
place)
0.49 0.54 0.33
Perceived
Probability of
Occurrence
Abandoned cars
Physical or verbal attacks by people
Litter on the streets
Mugging
Car thefts
Robberies
Rowdy teens
Burglaries
Public Drinking
Vandalism
Police officers around the place
Domestic violence
Street fights
0.86 0.92 0.89
Safety
Perceived
Safety
Feel confident while walking there
Feel secure because it is an unthreatening
place
Be worried about the possibility of
victimization
Feel unease because you don’t know what to
expect
0.78 0.83 0.83
49
Table 4. Standard Multiple Regression on Perceived Safety for Peten Street Degraded
Relations
B
Std.
Error
Beta
t
Part
R
R
2
Adjusted
R
2
F
df
NoDisorder predicts Safety
.609
.082
.601
7.434***
.601
601
.361
.354
55.270
1,98
NoDisorder predicts No
Vulnerability
587 .086 .560 6.818*** .560 .560 .313 .306
46.486***
1,102
NoDisorder predicts
Probability
-.536 .067 -.635 -8.059*** -.635 .635 .404 .397
64.945***
1,96
No disorder predicts Handle
problems
.384 .143 .254 2.681** .254 .254 .065 .056 7.186** 1,104
No Vulnerability predicts
Safety
.676 .066 .699 10.165*** .699 .699 .489 .484
103.335***
1,108
Probability predicts Safety
-.705
.097
-.587
-7.290***
-.587
.587
.345
.338
53.147***
1,101
Handle problems predict
Safety
.232 .060 .345 3.856*** .345
.345
.119
.111
14.867***
1,110
No Disorder + Probability + No Vulnerability predict Safety
(Constant)
-.329
.130
-2.256*
.781
.610
.593
36.309***
4,93
No Disorder
.149
.093
.147
1.606
.104
No Vulnerability
.420
.081
.435
5.210***
.338
Probability
-.297 .109 -.247 -2.723** -.176
Handle problems
.141
.046
.210
3.034**
.197
Method: Enter
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001
50
Table 6. Standard Multiple Regression on Perceived Safety for Petén Street as It Is
B
Std.
Error
Beta
t
Part
R
R
2
Adjus
ted R
2
F
df
No Disorder predicts Safety
.651
.068
.696
9.593***
.696
.696
.484
.479
92.035***
1,98
No Disorder predicts No
Vulnerability
.485 .060 .624 8.061*** .624 .624 .389 .383
64.974***
1,102
No Disorder predicts
Probability
-.510 .055 -.685 -9.205*** -.685 .685 .469 .463
84.738***
1,96
No disorder predicts Handle
problems
.375 .111 .315 3.390*** .315 .315 .100 .091 11.495*** 1,104
No Vulnerability predicts
Safety
.784 .088 .652 8.933*** .652 .652 .425 .420
79.807***
1,108
Probability predicts Safety -.708 .103 -.565 -6.875*** -.565 .565 .319 .312 47.262*** 1,101
Handle problems predict
Safety
.342 .068 .435 5.071*** .435
.435
.189
.182
25.711***
1,110
No Disorder + Probability + No Vulnerability predict Safety
(Constant)
.111
.044
2.510*
.777
.604
.587
35.534***
4,93
No Disorder
.292
.099
.312
2.945**
.192
No Vulnerability
.352
.107
.293
3.276***
.214
Probability
-.268 .113 -.214 -2.366* -.154
Handle problems
.137
.058
.175
2.357*
.154
Method: Enter *p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001
Table 7. Standard Multiple Regression on Perceived Safety for Peten Street Improved
B
Std.
Error
Beta
t
Part
R
R
2
Adjus
ted R2
F
df
No Disorder predicts Safety
.518
.074
.576
6.976***
.576
.576
.332
.325
48.661***
1,98
No Disorder predicts No Vulnerability .478 .074 .540 6.484*** .540 .540 .292 .285 42.048*** 1,102
No Disorder predicts Probability
-.542
.056
-.701
-9.624***
-.701
.701
.491
.486
92.628***
1,96
No Disorder predicts Handle problems
.329
.126
.248
2.610**
.248
.248
.061
.052
6.815**
1,104
No Vulnerability predicts Safety
.675
.073
.664
9.238***
.664
664
.441
.436
85.332***
1,108
Probability predicts Safety
-.576
.100
-.496
-5.737***
-.496
.496
.246
.238
32.909***
1,101
Handle problems predicts Safety
.208
.061
.307
3.388***
.307
.307
.094
.086
11.476***
1,110
No Disorder + Probability + No Vulnerability predict Safety
(Constant)
.337
.120
2.812**
.716
.513
.492
24.449***
4,93
No Disorder
.239
.097
.266
2.460*
.178
No Vulnerability
.471 .096 .463 4.911*** .356
Probability
-.070
.126
-.061
-.559
-.040
Handle problems
.048
.054
.070
.876
.063
Method: Enter
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001
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