In this week's podcast, we get to the meat of the matter via a long-controversial theory proposed by George Kelling and James Wilson in The Atlantic in 1982. Broken Windows.
..disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.
Controversial but increasingly qualified. But what psychological process is at work? I have a proposition. You'll have to listen to the podcast to hear more...
For Kelling's reflections on the theory and its detractors ten years later, head here.