Fear Of Crime And The Psychology Of Risk Research Paper

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Research on the fear of crime has developed slowly but surely since the early 1960s, providing a rich interdisciplinary literature of empirical, conceptual, and methodological interest. But studies often lack theoretical reach and ambition. In an attempt to stimulate interdisciplinary work that spans psychological and sociological modes of analysis, this research paper tries to reframe the fear of crime literature according to psychological insights into social and risk perception.

Framing Fear Of Crime And Risk Perception

The first section reviews psychological work on emotional reactions to the anticipation of victimization and risk perception.


Emotional reactions and perceptions of risk lie at the heart of fear of crime, and one way to approach the link between them is to focus on “worry” not “fear.” There are two reasons for this.

First, fear inadequately captures most people’s emotions about the threat of becoming victims of crime (see inter alia Warr 2000; Gray et al. 2011). Fear is a strong physical response to an immediate and proximate threat, and while fear may be a good descriptor of some people’s emotions in some situations (e.g., in the presence of immediate signs of danger), people’s emotions about crime are often closer to some kind of rumination or anxiety about risk and uncertain threat (i.e., in the absence of immediate signs of danger). People can respond to an immediately threatening environment, but they can also worry about distant potential harm.

Worry about crime, by contrast, captures people’s assessment of proximate and distal threat. Worry is both an evaluation of an immediate situation (one can worry about the threat of victimization indicated by close cues in the environment) and the rumination about future outcomes (an anxiety-producing concern about distal and future events yet to transpire). According to Berenbaum (2010, p. 963), worry can be described as repetitive and anxiety-producing thoughts that have three characteristics: “.. .(1) the repetitive thoughts concern an uncertain future outcome; (2) the uncertain outcome about which the person is thinking is considered undesirable; and (3) the subjective experience of having such thoughts is unpleasant.” Second, there is a good theoretical framework for the processes by which worry about crime starts, continues, and finishes. Berenbaum’s (2010) initiation-termination two-phase model draws our attention not just to the links between perceived threat and emotion, but also to worry as a dynamic process that unfolds over time. On the one hand, worry is initiated by perceptions of threat which comprise the perceived probability of undesirable future outcomes, their cost, and the salience of risk and threat.

On the other hand, people continue to worry unless they can accept the uncertain future possibility of a threat, and have taken whatever efforts they can to prevent or cope with it. Conversely, they stop worrying if they become comfortable with the possibility that the threat might still be realized. In Berenbaum’s (2010) model, this acceptance of threat – that often leads to the termination of worry – is linked to one’s desire for certainty (i.e., the intolerance of uncertain situations and events), beliefs about the value of worrying (i.e., positive beliefs that some individuals hold about worry, such as perceiving it as an effective way of problem solving or an indicator of high levels of responsibility), a perseverative iterative style (i.e., the tendency to focus on an object of concern by repeatedly thinking about the next possible step in a chain of connected outcomes), and a sense of closure in one’s role to prevent or cope with the threat (i.e. the sense that every possible preventative or coping action has been taken).

Need for cognitive closure may be especially relevant to fear of crime (Jackson 2013). Kruglanski and Webster (1996, p. 278) define it thus:

.. .a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and the eschewal of confusion and ambiguity .. . need for closure is presumed to exert its effects via two general tendencies: the urgency tendency, reflecting the inclination to attain closure as quickly as possible, and the permanence tendency, reflecting the tendency to maintain it for as long as possible

People with a high need for cognitive closure have difficulty accepting the prospect of the uncertain outcome; they exhibit a general intolerance of uncertainty and prefer predictability, structure, and quick decision-making. Imagine a group of people who all believe that falling victim of crime is a significant personal threat and all have a high need for cognitive closure. They are less able to live comfortably with nonnegligible risk and cannot reach some sort of acceptance of the existence of possible harm, so they continue to worry in a persistent fashion.

Cognitive And Affective Assessments Of Risk

The distinction between risk as feeling and risk as analysis (Loewenstein et al. 2001) may also be important to fear of crime. According to this perspective, there are two types of information processing that drive how people make sense of risk. On the one hand, risk as analysis involves a more formal, logical, and numeric style of reasoning. A style more applicable to quantitative and cognitive assessments of crime risk, risk as analysis typically involves a rather dispassionate assessment of likelihood and consequence via more logical and numerical assessments of risk. If people are using such a type of information processing regarding crime risk, then emotion is less likely to accompany and shape the resulting representation of potential threat.

On the other hand, risk as feeling involves more intuitive and experiential type of thinking in which emotion is particularly important. Risk as feeling brings in more qualitative aspects, like the vividness with which consequences can be imagined, one’s mood, and prior experience with the event. For Slovic et al. (2004), the “experiential” system is affect-laden rather than formally logical like the “analytic system,” involving rapid processing and the encoding of reality in images and metaphors rather than abstract symbols and numbers.

Importantly, affective reactions and appraisals of risk can often hold sway over more dispassionate perceptions (Loewenstein et al. 2001). For example, when the outcome is vivid and affectladen, then an individual will be relatively insensitive to probability variations. Applied to fear of crime, people who process crime risk in affective and imagery-laden ways may be rather uninterested in the actual probability of victimization. They may focus instead on its imagined outcome.

Feelings about a risk object can also shape more cognitive and numeric appraisals of risk and benefit. The affect heuristic describes how a representation that is tagged with affect – a good or bad quality – can be influential in overall judgements of risk (Slovic et al. 2004). Vivid and emotion-laden representations of an outcome (i.e., a particular image of crime) may thus shape numerical assessments of probability (cf. Jackson 2011).

Availability Cascades

The availability heuristic (Tversky and Kahneman 1974) predicts that the probability of an event tends to be judged by the ease with which instances of it can be retrieved from memory. People tend to overestimate the frequency of very rare, spectacular events and underestimate the incidence of more frequent, less spectacular events. Applied to crime, the availability heuristic predicts that when individuals hold a particularly resonant and vivid image of a risk object (of a given crime, say), they judge its likelihood to be especially high: they substitute a relatively difficult question (e.g., how likely is it that I will become a victim of crime?) with a relatively easy question (e.g., how easy can I imagine becoming a victim of crime?).

Why can some people easily imagine becoming a victim of crime? Potentially relevant here is Sunstein’s (2005) notion of “availability cascades,” which posits that hearing about events via interpersonal communication and the mass media can have an impact on public perceptions of risk, partly through an interaction between availability and particular social mechanisms:

[there may exist] social cascades, or simply cascades, through which expressed perceptions trigger chains of individual responses that make these perceptions appear increasingly plausible through their rising availability in public discourse. Availability cascades may be accompanied by countermechanisms that keep perceptions consistent with the relevant facts. Under certain circumstances, however, they generate persistent social availability errors—widespread mistaken beliefs grounded in interactions between the availability heuristic and the social mechanisms we describe. [emphasis in original] (Kuran and Sunstein 1999, p. 685)

Applied to fear of crime, circulating information about crime may shape people’s emotional and cognitive representations of personal risk, in part by increasing its cognitive availability. Fearinducing accounts of events – such as the Boston Marathon bombing in May 2013 and the incident in 2002 in Virginia when two snipers killed ten people – may be highly publicized, noticed, and repeated, leading to cascade effects as the event becomes available to an increasing number of people.

Sunstein (2005, p. 93) also speculates that existing predispositions can determine in large part what individuals pay attention to. One example he gives relates to genetic modification of food. Those who are predisposed to be fearful of this issue are more likely to seek out information about genetic modification. Furthermore, “group polarization” describes how, when individuals discuss with each other certain events and risks, they typically end up with a more extreme view (p. 98).

The subjective threat of crime may thus become enhanced in people’s minds. Vivid and dramatic images may raise subjective probabilities, in turn initiating worry. Frightening images may then lead some people to process risk information in more rapid and basic ways that are sensitive to the vividness and associations that a given risk evokes. The emotional impact of the associated outcomes of victimization may shape cognitive assessments of probabilities, and emotional appraisal of risk may hold sway over cognitive assessments – when emotions and thoughts diverge – in shaping people’s behavior. If individuals find it difficult to accept the threat, then worry will continue in a persistent fashion over time (cf. Berenbaum 2010).

Criminological Work On The Fear Of Crime

This section reviews how criminological research has defined and measured emotion and risk perception, before then addressing how criminological studies have explored the links between the two.

Risk Perception, Vulnerability And The Fear Of Crime

Criminological studies typically ask individuals about the intensity with which they worry about falling victim of crime (Hough 1995) or the extent to which they are fearful of falling victim of crime (Ferraro 1995) – although some continue to use single indicators of subjective safety in the home and streets. Asking individuals how “afraid” or “worried” they are about crime, surveys direct people to their emotions about future harm. But worry (or fear) may be rarer than one might think. In a study based on British Crime Survey (known as Crime Survey for England and Wales since April 2012) data, more people expressed concern about future harm (i.e., they said they were worried at the time of the interview) than had worried recently (Farrall et al. 2009). A good proportion of individuals who said that they were “very” or “fairly” worried also reported that they had not worried even once over the past twelve months. Asking about frequency may thus be a useful supplement to asking about the intensity of worry or fear (Gray et al. 2011).

Criminological research typically measures perceived risk as solely subjective probability. Survey respondents are asked how likely they think it is that they will become a victim of crime (e.g., in the next year). But a number of studies have widened the focus beyond perceived likelihood. Drilling into perceptions of the possible impact and seriousness of crime and victimization (Warr 1987; Jackson 2011) as well as the sense of control over the event (Jackson 2009); such work shows the relevance of people’s perceptions of the seriousness of the consequences if they were to fall victim and people’s sense of control over its occurrence.

This work suggests that worry about crime is partly generated and sustained by a sense of risk, threat and vulnerability, comprised of perceived likelihood, consequence and control (see Killias 1990; Gabriel and Greve 2003; Farrall et al. 2009; Jackson 2009, 2011). Consistent with Berenbaum’s (2010) account of the initiation of worry, people start to worry about crime when they see significant threat. And critically, subjective threat may extend beyond the chances of an event happening, to include its controllability and possible impact. The heterogeneity of different types of crime with regard to “relevance, explanation and consequences” (Gabriel and Greve 2003, p. 6) may mean that the same crime could have a different anticipated resonance or impact for one individual compared to another.

Introducing the notion of “perceptually contemporaneous offences,” Warr (1984) posited that some criminal events are viewed as more dangerous than others by particular segments of the population (typically women and the elderly) due to the crimes they imply. As such, “… circumstances or events that appear innocuous or comparatively minor to males or younger persons are apt to be viewed as more dangerous to females and the elderly because of the offences they imply or portend” (Warr 1994, p. 19). Similarly, Ferraro (1995, p. 87) argued that sexual harassment “… may shadow other types of victimization among women. Rape may operate like any other master offence among women, especially younger women who have the highest rate of rape, heightening fear reactions for other forms of crime.”

Relatedly, Warr’s (1987) model of “sensitivity to risk” predicts that the influence of likelihood on fear is moderated by perceptions of seriousness of the given type of crime. Analyzing US data, he found that when people judged crime to be especially serious in its effect, a lower level of perceived likelihood was needed to stimulate some level of personal fear. Individuals were more “sensitive” to a given level of perceived risk when they viewed the consequences of victimization to be especially serious. The risk sensitivity model suggests that once individuals associate a risk with high personal consequences and low personal control, only a relatively small level of perceived likelihood is needed to elicit a strong emotional response (Jackson 2011).

There is a clear overlap between the notions of perceived risk and vulnerability (or susceptibility) to crime. According to Killias (1990), there are physical, social and situational dimensions of vulnerability, related to three aspects of threat: “exposure to non-negligible risk,” “loss of control,” and “seriousness of consequences.” Crucially, perceived risk may mediate the association between markers of vulnerability (typically sociodemographic variables, such as gender and age) and expressed emotion. For example, Jackson (2009) found that females tend to worry more frequently than males partly because (a) they feel less able to physically defend themselves, (b) they have lower perceived self-efficacy, (c) they have higher perceived negative impact, and (d) they see the likelihood of victimization as higher for themselves and for their social group. Those with fewer resources – typically posited to be females, the elderly, and those in lower socioeconomic groups – may feel less able to protect themselves and deal with the consequences, and therefore they may be more likely to report being worried or fearful over falling victim of crime.

Applying the work on risk as feeling and risk as analysis to risk perception and fear of crime, one individual may associate burglary with the risk of physical or sexual assault, while another individual may associate burglary with the loss of material goods and a great deal of inconvenience. For the first person, the risk of burglary may be appraised through the affective route (in part because of the severe consequences and sense of uncontrollability of the perceptually contemporaneous offence of assault) leading to a feeling of vulnerability and susceptibility to crime. Risk in this case may be constituted by the resonance of the consequences, the uncontrollability of the outcome, the vividness of the event, and the ease with which one can summon up a frightening image. Such imagery of consequence and control may then raise the subjective probability of burglary. But it may also interact with the perceived likelihood to produce a strong emotional reaction (cf. Jackson 2011). By contrast, the second person may think about burglary more through the cognitive route, with the subjective likelihood being relatively low, and less influential in shaping emotion than some resonant image of the impact of the event and its controllability.

Risk Perception And Circulating Media Representations Of Crime And Danger

One might assume that personal victimization experience is the main source of people’s personal sense of vulnerability and risk. People may feel threatened about crime in part because they have recently been victimized. It may be, for example, that people who have been burgled have a strong sense of the severe consequences, can easily imagine it happening, and know something about its controllability.

Yet victimization experience is not a strong predictor of fear of crime (see inter alia Hale 1996). This may be because of what Winkel (1998, p. 477) calls “active adaptational coping,” whereby the experience of victimization simultaneously raises one’s perception of the likelihood of it occurring and lowers their perception of its negative impact if it were to occur again (e.g., the reality of burglary may not be as frightening as one imagines). More work is clearly needed, however, and Berenbaum’s (2010) model of worry may be a helpful orientating framework for research into the effect of victimization on fear of crime, capturing the process of its initiation and continuation or termination over time.

If it is not (primarily) personal experience of criminal victimization, what drives people’s perceptions of risk? Why does crime become a vivid, accessible, and easy-to-imagine prospect for some people, involving a sense of severe personal consequences, uncontrollability and unpredictability?

Clearly, the media are a primary source of information about the extent, nature, and seriousness of crime in most countries across the world. The media tend to report shocking but rare criminal events that are intriguing, dramatic, and sensational (see inter alia Weitzer and Kubrin 2004; Surette 2011). In a study of the reporting of murder in the UK, for example, Gekoski et al. (2012, p. 17) found that journalists tend to “.. .believe that certain types of murder – involving ‘ideal’ victims, unusual features, extreme brutality and serial killers – are almost always of interest to the public, while certain other types – involving ‘undeserving’ victims in commonplace circumstances – are almost always not.”

Crucially, the mass media and interpersonal communication may be an important backdrop for a widespread psychological proximity of the threat of crime. While the fear of crime literature lacks a clear and robust evidence based on the relationship between media coverage and risk perception (although see Chiricos et al. 1997), it does seem plausible that people develop personalized images of risk partly as a result of hearing about specific events of crime via the media. High levels of coverage – biased towards the dramatic and sensational – may make the events cognitively available to people. Personal images of risk may develop, and through the media’s focus on the highly consequential and uncontrollable, crime reports may end up stressing certain attributes of the criminal event which only increase the vividness of the representations. If many people develop their own sense of risk, based on common imagery of particularly frightening crimes, then it may not be very surprising that they worry about crime: they receive dramatic images of risk that become cognitively available and are processed in a more intuitive and experiential manner, which stresses affect, images, and vividness.

People might, for instance, come to associate burglary with violence in part because they receive and process striking reports of especially serious burglaries from the newspapers, television and other media. Hearing about specific (and local) events of burglary – which are brought home in a very vivid way, “as if it could happen to me,” that resonate with their own experience (see inter alia Chiricos et al. 1997) – may then explain why people develop these personalized representations of the risk of crime, with all the attendant sense of severe consequences, loss of control, and high likelihood (Jackson 2011).

Risk Perception And The Social And Physical Environment

What about the neighborhood in which someone lives and resides? Does the social and physical environment matter?

Here the fear of crime literature is relatively strong. First, a number of studies have used multilevel models to situate individuals in their specific neighborhood context (e.g., Wyant 2008; Brunton-Smith and Sturgis 2011). Focusing on people’s expressed feelings of local safety, Wyant (2008) found significant neighborhoodlevel clustering in Philadelphia. Similarly, Brunton-Smith and Sturgis (2011) found significant area-level clustering in worry about crime in neighborhoods across England and Wales.

It clearly matters where one lives. But what explains this neighborhood-level clustering? Perhaps the most complete study in this regard is that of Brunton-Smith and Sturgis (2011). Examining neighborhood effects across a full national distribution of neighbourhoods in and around a range of different urban, rural, and metropolitan contexts, they found that recorded crime, neighborhood structural characteristics, and visual signs of disorder (derived from survey interviewer ratings rather than respondent assessments) all had direct and independent statistical effects on the expressed intensity of worry about crime. Additionally, neighbourhoods predicted crime-related worry in more subtle ways, moderating the statistical effects of its individual-level causes: between-group differences in expressed worry about crime were both exacerbated and ameliorated by the characteristics of the areas in which people live.

Second, one’s neighborhood matters but so also does one’s adjacent set of neighborhoods. People seem to draw on environmental cues not just from their own immediate environment, but also from neighboring local areas, basing their judgements of risk on both the characteristics of their local neighborhoods and the characteristics of the areas visited during their routine activities. In statistical terms, this manifests itself as spatial autocorrelation, with higher than average similarities amongst neighbourhoods in closer proximity to one another, signalling the existence of shared characteristics and joint influences.

Wyant (2008) incorporated this additional spatial structure in an assessment of neighborhood effects on fear of crime. Across 45 local neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Wyant reports significant spatial autocorrelation in his measure of neighborhood fear. Analyzing data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, BruntonSmith and Jackson (2012) found that worry about crime was weakly related not just to levels of crime and disorder in one’s own neighborhood but also to crime and disorder in adjacent areas. By incorporating information about those areas that surround each neighborhood, it was possible to estimate the extent of these shared influences as well as the extent to which individuals base their judgements on the broader local environment.

Third, people’s perceptions of their neighborhood are key. The aforementioned work used recorded crime levels, neighborhood structural characteristics and visual signs of disorder to help explain some of the (immediate and adjacent) neighborhood effects. But many more studies have addressed people’s perceptions of the immediate environment, investigating how individuals variously make sense of neighborhood disorder and collective efficacy. Importantly, disorder is any aspect of the social and physical environment that indicates to the observer (a) a lack of control and (b) the values and intentions of others that share the space (see inter alia Skogan and Maxfield 1981; Ferraro 1995). Ferraro (1995) analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of US citizens, finding that people’s perceptions of incivilities predicted their perceptions of the chances of victimization, which in turn predicted people’s expressed fear of crime.

Farrall et al. (2009) found similar results, this time analyzing data from the British Crime Survey. Although they did not use a multilevel framework, their analysis did link neighborhoodlevel characteristics to worries and anxieties about crime through two layers of mediation: individual perceptions (of disorder and collective efficacy) and risk perception (i.e., subjective probabilities). The statistical effects of social and structural characteristics of the neighborhood seemed to be mediated through people’s reading of social organization and disorganization.

The Social Perception Of Disorder

People thus seem to “read” the character and intentions of certain individuals and groups – and the presence or lack of local social control – from the level of social disorganization in their neighborhood. But importantly, two individuals living in the same environment can come to quite different conclusions about the same environmental cues. A good deal of work suggests that people’s perceptions of their neighborhood are dependent not just on the social and physical cues in the local environment but also on the respondent’s relationship to that environment and others who inhabit it (e.g., Sampson and Raudenbush 2004). Some individuals judge certain stimuli as “disorderly,” while other individuals in the same environment might not, with people ascribing meaning to disorder they see in front of them (see Wickes et al. 2013).

An individual’s existing attitudes, beliefs, or prejudices seem to provide a filter through which they experience and interpret their environment. Ambiguous cues need to be defined by the observer as “disorderly” in the first place. Exploring the basis on which individuals formed perceptions of disorder, Sampson and Raudenbush (2004) reasoned that citizens interpreted objective signs of disorder (measurable signs of litter, vandalism, graffiti, etc.) through existing and historical stereotypes of race and deprivation (see also Chiricos et al. 1997). Their work suggested that observers in Chicago not only infused disorderly cues with notions of race and deprivation; they also had existing cognitive representations or stereotypes that linked disadvantaged minority groups with “social images, including but not limited to crime, violence, disorder, welfare, and undesirability as neighbors.”

Jackson (2004) also found that some people judged particular ambiguous stimuli as “disorderly” and representational of criminal threat, while other people in the same environment judged the same stimuli as benign and unthreatening. Respondents who held more authoritarian views about law and order, and who were concerned about a long-term deterioration of community, were more likely to perceive disorder in their environment. They were also more likely to link these physical cues to problems of social cohesion and consensus, declining quality of social bonds and informal social control (cf. Farrall et al. 2009). The symbolic nature of social order seemed to generate meaning in the context of their relationship to long-term social change and people’s anxieties about cohesion and moral consensus.

In an important qualitative study, Carvalho and Lewis (2003, p. 791) explored how reactions such as fear, safety, and anger were dependent on personal distancing from issues of crime and disorder:

The more distant the relationship, the less salient these problems, as dangers, are in the context of daily routines and the less they intrude in one’s life. With close relationships, crime and incivilities occupy a central position in one’s daily life. These problems appear isolated, detached from other domains of life, imposing themselves onto the person as dangerous (raising fear) or as bothersome (raising anger). With distant relationships, on the other hand, crime/incivilities are peripheral to the person. The dangers of these problems are part of life, and qualities other than their dangerousness are apparent. Peripheral relationships with crime/ incivilities accompany a neutral reaction of safety (neither fear nor revolt).

Carvahlo and Lewis’s (2003, p. 791) data suggested that individuals can neutralize dangers when they view crime/incivilities as “banal events … Dangers are contextualized temporally, referred to the past, with the idea that they have been there, they have existed, and they are ordinary.” Dangers might also be neutralized when they are “delimited”: “when they lose their random character (thus, the potential to affect just anyone) and become restricted to certain places of the neighbourhood and times of the day (physical delimitation), or to groups of people (social delimitation)” (p. 794).

Final Thoughts And Future Directions Of Research

More work is needed on the links between emotion and risk perception in fear of crime. Studies need to address how people develop a sense of threat and psychologically try to manage that threat. The distinction between risk as feeling and risk as analysis may be especially important, exploring whether risk, circulated chiefly by the mass media and interpersonal communication, may be judged cognitively and emotionally. People may process information from the mass media (and interpersonal communication) using both analytical and associational routes. When the emotional appraisal of the threat of crime (using a more associationist rather than formal mode of information processing) differs to a cognitive sense of its likelihood, feelings may hold sway, and if crime is judged to have severe consequences and the outcome is vivid and affectladen, then an individual may be insensitive to probability variations. That individual is thus unlikely to feel better if she or he is told that their chances of victimization are rather slight.

A feedback system might also mean that someone already emotionally animated by risk builds over time a more extensive and vivid image of the risk event, fleshing out effects, protagonists, and relevant causes and circumstances. This might then make the risk more substantial, structured, and relevant to that individual. Emotional systems may lead to the structuring and differentiating of risk images, personalizing them, fleshing them out, and bringing affect into the picture (Jackson 2011, 2012).

In addition, more work is needed to explore neighborhood context, social perception, and circulating images of crime in the context of the links between emotion and risk perception. Studies need to address the particular set of evaluative activities that links crime – in the eyes of observers – with certain individuals or groups that are judged to be (a) hostile to the local social order, (b) untrustworthy, and (c) representative of some sort of social breakdown. Such work should assess how the risk of crime is projected into a given environment and elaborated with a face (the potential criminal) and a context (the place it might happen). It should consider how emotion and risk perceptions disclose a whole host of subtle evaluations of and responses to the social world – a way of responding to variable levels of social order and control, a sense of unease in an unpredictable environment, and the association of particular individuals or conditions with deviance and hostile intent. Fear of crime may thus be both an expressive and experiential phenomenon (Jackson 2004).

In this respect, perceptions of crime risk may reveal processes of designation (where certain groups, behaviors or community conditions are labelled as potentially criminal and dangerous). Crime may be used as a way of articulating evaluations of people, community conditions, and social control, a lens through which people understand social order, low-level deviance, and diversity. The identification of dangerous individuals may operate to establish “moral communities” by locating “immoral communities.” Stereotypes of particular groups may operate as distancing strategies for placing others, perpetuating normative boundaries of social conduct, roles and judgements, and strengthening one’s own social identity. They may reinforce the boundaries and identity of a given community by identifying what that community is against, e.g., certain troublesome individuals or particular groups defined by their social class or their ethnicity. Social psychology shows that the identification of an out-group can act to strengthen in-group solidarity. Scapegoating may also arise, where one group comes to embody a particular social problem. Such evaluative activity, if this analysis is correct, reveals how people define social order and what they think is hostile to social order. It also means that risk is culturally conditioned: what one defines as dangerous depends on where one stands.

Criminological research shows that the fear of crime is a complex social phenomenon and a multi-faceted construct. Fear of crime clearly expands far beyond direct victimization experience and probabilistic evaluations of its occurrence, comprising multiple psychological and social phenomena – such as wider worrying mechanisms, perceptions of one’s physical and social environment, and individuals’ prejudices and stereotypes. But more work is needed to capture the complexity and multi-dimensionality of this important social and political phenomenon. Bridging sociological and psychological modes of analysis can open up new avenues of research, providing us with more powerful analytical perspectives to understand the causes, nature and effects of fear of crime.


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