Dutch study on discrimination

Lindenberg is a cognitive sociologist at Tilburg University and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He studies how our physical surroundings shape our thoughts and behaviors.

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

If an urban environment is covered with graffiti, are people more likely to litter? If there is litter on the ground, are people more likely to steal? Lindenberg has conducted controlled experiments of these questions and found that the answer is yes.

In a new study published in the journal Science, Lindenberg and colleague Diederik Stapel investigated whether littered and disordered surroundings promote stereotyping. They asked Caucasian train passengers at a railway station in Utrecht to take a survey about their views of Muslims, homosexuals, and the Dutch.

At a time when the railway's cleaning crew was on strike and the station was a mess, passengers were far more likely to express strong stereotypes than when the station was clean and orderly. During the strike, white passengers were also less likely to sit near a passenger who was black.

Lindenberg believes his study has clear policy implications: "Diagnose environmental disorder early and intervene immediately" to promote social cohesiveness.