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Beate Volker, Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, programme director of Institutions, Inequalities and Life Courses, and member of the Centre for Urban Studies and Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies, and colleagues from the University of Utrecht have recently published an article based on a field experiment with lost letters in Dutch neighbourhoods. The experiment has lead to a number of new findings and conclusions, among which the fact that neighbourhood-level expectations of social control not only dampen socially undesired outcomes such as crime, but also enhance the likelihood of socially desirable behaviour.

Beate Volker (picture by Gillissen)

Neighborhood research is considered to be an important lens through which to understand individual well-being. A lack of collective efficacy – that is social cohesion and the shared belief that neighbors will intervene on behalf of the common good – are associated with social and physical disorder. Whether collective efficacy, in turn, also leads to more socially desirable behavior is, however, less clear. In this field experiment Volker et al. investigate if collective efficacy in neighborhoods also enhances  prosocial, other-regarding behavior by making use of the  Lost Letter Technique.

In total, 1,240 letters were dropped in a representative sample of 110 Dutch neighborhoods. The findings show that control expectations clearly matter for the rate of posted letters, while social cohesion does not seem to have effect. In addition, this research shows that a high percentage of non-Western residents, high residential mobility, and a relatively low local income level are negatively related to the rate of posted letters. 

For full access to the article, please click here