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Science. 2011 Apr 8;332(6026):251-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1201068.

Coping with chaos: how disordered contexts promote stereotyping and discrimination.

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  • 1Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research, Tilburg University, Post Office Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, Netherlands.

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Being the victim of discrimination can have serious negative health- and quality-of-life-related consequences. Yet, could being discriminated against depend on such seemingly trivial matters as garbage on the streets? In this study, we show, in two field experiments, that disordered contexts (such as litter or a broken-up sidewalk and an abandoned bicycle) indeed promote stereotyping and discrimination in real-world situations and, in three lab experiments, that it is a heightened need for structure that mediates these effects (number of subjects: between 40 and 70 per experiment). These findings considerably advance our knowledge of the impact of the physical environment on stereotyping and discrimination and have clear policy implications: Diagnose environmental disorder early and intervene immediately.

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